Christmas is not a really big deal here in Zambia. It's an official holiday, government offices are closed for a week or two in December, and all the shopping malls and grocery stores are covered in decorations and play Christmas music starting in early November. But, as far as the average person celebrating the reason for the season, it doesn't really happen.
That doesn't mean that people aren't well acquainted with the commercial side of Christmas. It is common to be greeted with, "Where's my Christmas?". In all the years we've lived in Zambia though, we've never had anyone give us a Christmas gift. Not that I'm really looking for gifts, but it would be nice to have some give along with the take.
To that end, this year I decided to teach my staff what a blessing giving to others can be. I started our weekly meeting one Tuesday with talking about what Christmas means, where the holiday originated, how Santa Claus came to be, etc.
Then, I offered up the suggestion that each of them could draw a name of a coworker and exchange gifts at our next staff meeting. I promised to provide cookies and juice as my gift to all of them. We agreed that the names would be drawn in secret, but then the gifts would be given publicly so that gratefulness and giving thanks could be part of the lesson learning also.
A few days later I had to explain the procedure to an employee that wasn't at the meeting. I explained that there was a price limit of K15,000 (about $3) so that no one went crazy and made others feel badly about their gift. "But," this staff member wanted to know, "what if I spend K15,000, and the one I'm exchanging with only spends K1,000??" We had to hold our laughter in. It was such a cute and human reaction. I spent time talking with him about the joys of giving and how the act itself blesses us.
The day of the party arrived and everyone was so excited. They came clutching their little parcels. We started with one lady and then whoever she gave a gift to would give the next gift to the name she had drawn and on it went. They all did a really good job. The top two gifts? Local cloth and underwear!
After the gift exchange, they performed a song in Bemba (the local language) that they said was a Christmas song. It definitely had the word Bethlehem in it.
Then it was time for the food portion of the party. We served peanut butter cookies, decorated gingerbread cookies and some peanut butter popcorn.
During the original planning meeting I had put spices in a bowl to show the ladies what Christmas smells like. Then at the party I told them that the gingerbread cookies are what Christmas tastes like.
Almost everyone put a portion of their snack into a bag to eat later--whether to make it last, or to share with friends or family, I don't know.
They all seemed to have a good time and are looking forward to next year's part already.
Exactly One Year Ago: Gifts from the Heart