By Bill Firman (SSS) – Christmas is coming. What it means for the people here is that they do try to get some new clothes and you will see many parading in their new finery on Christmas day. There are some toys for sale in some of the western style shops but few children will receive toys or games for Christmas. What they would hope for is a full stomach of nourishing but simple food and maybe one or two new items of clothing.

Most South Sudanese do not know what a ‘holiday’ is. They do understand that on a ‘holiday’ one does not have to work. Of course, the reality here is that many still do. But the idea of ‘going away’ for a ‘holiday’ is simply foreign to ninety percent of the people. My guess is that if I said ‘I am going away for a holiday’, their puzzled response would be: ‘Why would you want to do that?’ They do understand the need to visit distant family members but the notion of ‘just needing to get away for a break’ is a self-indulgence beyond their experience.

Yes, they understand it is Christmas and they will celebrate joyfully in overflowing Churches full of people of all ages, including children and young people. The choirs will sing with drums and catching African rhythm, often with the chorus between each verse repeated twice. What is the hurry? It does not matter how long it takes. We are here to celebrate with family and friends. We still have time for Christmas.

Not much is expected. A special treat might be a bottle of soda or a couple of biscuits. What most want is simply to be well and happy with family and friends. After that, it is back to the normal routine of eking out a means of daily survival.

I attach some poignant photos taken by Paul Jeffrey. These are the kind of images I think about as Christmas approaches in South Sudan. Each photo tells a story of longing, of simplicity, of sharing, of being together. The first Christmas was very simple, very basic. That is how it still is here in South Sudan – a biblical Christmas, not a commercial one. As we work to create a more prosperous South Sudan, we pray that our efforts will not impact negatively on the Christmas that South Sudanese presently understand and cherish.

– Br Bill

Photos: Paul Jeffrey