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For Some Kenyans, Christmas is a Season of Holiday Excess

  • Reuben Kyama

The holiday season is also one of heavy shopping

In Africa, as around the world, Christmas is a festive season of gift buying. But some are complaining that the holiday has become too commercial.

Millions of Kenyans will mark Christmas Day in church; until then, they’re crowding local shopping malls and specialty stores to buy presents during the festive season.

Critics say an important Christian celebration has been turned into a shopping frenzy; during the season celebrating the birth of Jesus, radio and store jingles also announce the birth of -- holiday shopping bargains.

For Some Kenyans, Christmas is a Season of Holiday Excess
For Some Kenyans, Christmas is a Season of Holiday Excess

Phyllis Wambui is a pharmacy attendant and a mother of one:

“When I compare Christmas these days with the olden days, we used to celebrate a lot. But nowadays, I don’t know whether it’s too commercial. Christmas has become less and less [spiritual]. In the olden days, people used to have fun, we used to know it’s a meeting time, we used to celebrate. And life wasn’t that expensive. But now you’ve got to strain, you’ve got to work hard. You have to save, say like for four months in advance for you to get something for Christmas or even for you to get entertained. So, for me Christmas is good, but you have to strain a lot.”

Wambui also says she will be celebrating the season this year with loved ones.

“This Christmas, I will be working half a day. From there, I will proceed to join my family in celebrating…. Maybe take them to somewhere as a surprise – that I won’t disclose. I am sure they will enjoy.”

In 2008, Kenya’s chain store giant, Nakumatt, sold 2,300 artificial Christmas trees. But sales dropped last year due to an economic recession. The chain, which operates across East Africa, says things will be different this year.

Store manager Bonface Mbatia is excited about the improved business climate:

“Since we are already in the festive season, business is good and we do expect it to become even better than that. Also, on the side of shopping hours, since [we operate] 24 hours, normally customer flow minimizes at around midnight, but now it’s extending to about 3:00 in the morning.”

Buying and selling Christmas gifts has been a custom in Kenya ever since the Western concept landed on the country’s shores. Mbatia says even non-Christians are getting involved in the commercial spirit of the holiday.

“Nowadays we have come to realize that Christmas is not only for Christians alone, but also people from other religions enjoy the Christmas mood. So, we expect high sales this season.”

But for Pastor Julius Wainaina, a senior pastor at the Nairobi-based International Christian Center, Christmas and most festive seasons are no longer what they were meant for:

“Not only in Kenya but all over the world, I think we’ve looked for opportunities [as business people] to take advantage when people are in a festive mood and sell wares to make profit. And generally as Africans, we like festivities and celebrations, and it comes with eating and all manner of celebrations, and I think this is what has happened particularly to Christmas.”

Wainaina says there’s nothing wrong in celebrating the season, but he calls on people around the world to do so with caution:

And particularly to the youth, do not overdo it. Do not fall into that temptation. Those who are drinking, those making merry in all manner of things, be careful, because it comes at a price and at a cost that sometimes is expensive. I’d like to encourage people to celebrate with sobriety.”