12 DAYS OF CHRISTMAS: Rwandan celebration features morning mass, huge dinners, dance parties

(Photo used by permission of Brandy Riziki)
One family tradition is to have the kids younger than the age of 10 blow out the candles on their Christmas cake together, according to sophomore Brandy Riziki (red sweater, black dress).

Cultures around the world have special ways of celebrating the holiday season. In the “12 Days of Christmas” series, sophomores Jack Christian and Allison Zhang will interview students and teachers on their international Christmas experiences. Check back tomorrow to hear about Christmas in France from sophomore Mehdi Lacombe.

If one were to take a walk down a Rwandan street in December, there would be no Christmas lights on any houses or giant inflatable figures in the yard. Even if one entered a house, they would not find any Santas, reindeer or garlands.

“A simple Christmas tree; that is all you would see,” said sophomore Brandy Riziki, who was born in Rwanda and lived there for 13 years.

Though Rwanda is almost an entirely Christian country, not everyone decorates for Christmas.

“It really depends on the family and their traditions,” Riziki said.

But a typical Christmas day in Rwanda (when it would be hot but not as hot as in the summer) looks like this:

Adults and children wake up at a reasonable time in the morning and head to morning mass. (Presents are not opened until late in the night because in Rwanda, Christmas is more of a religious holiday with prayer coming before presents.)

After mass, everyone heads home before a big family party in the afternoon.

(Photo used by permission of Brandy Riziki)
Sophomore Brandy Riziki sits with her two cousins.

Family members come from all over the country to be together on the holiday.

The party is held at the biggest house in the family, so everyone can fit comfortably.

“It’s usually the grandparents’ house,” Riziki said. “They have the biggest houses.”

The parties range from 40-60 people, with the host family preparing food for everyone.

“Sometimes the host family will even miss morning mass because they have to cook all the food,” Riziki said.

Also there are no traditional Christmas dishes in Rwanda.

“The food is all very diverse, and we just cook everything we know,” Riziki said.

They prepare meat, fish, different kinds of vegetables, salad, rice and  potatoes.

“We cook everything, so no one in the family feels left out,” Riziki said.

At the party, the family socializes and talks about what happened during the year.

And after dinner has been eaten, they dance.

“We dance for hours,” Riziki said.

There isn’t a DJ, but the young male cousins come prepared with a playlist.

(Photo used by permission of Brandy Riziki)
Sophomore Brandy Riziki, middle, dances with her cousin, left, as her mom deletes pictures off of her phone. Riziki’s mother often took pictures because her phone took good quality photos.

“Everyone from age 1 to whatever dances,” Riziki said.

But not to Christmas music.

“We sing Christmas carols the first hour of the party,” Riziki said. “Then we dance to normal Rwandan music.”

But the party doesn’t end there.

“We have a worship session the last hour of the party  because many people in our family are pastors,” Riziki said. “We sing (and) pray, and then there are special prayer requests made by the family.”

But the party doesn’t end then either!

“Some people sleep over because they live far away,” Riziki said. “And then in the morning we cook another huge meal: breakfast.”

Since Riziki will be celebrating in the United States, she misses her old traditions.

“Some members of my family I am going to see this Christmas, but it feels weird not to celebrate Christmas the same way as them because the party is really fun,” she said.

By Jack Christian

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