It was about 5 p.m. on 26 December in Iramba parish in
western Tanzania. A steady stream of young African children had come to the
rectory for candy and soda to celebrate the Christmas season. Now it was quiet.
A few minutes later two former cooks in the parish arrived
Martina with her seven year old son Yosefu and Rosalia with her five year old
daughter Maria. The excited children quickly finished their hard candy and
Our living room was brightly decorated with colorful
African cloths. A miniature Christmas hut was set up in the corner. I invited
the children to sit on the floor in front of the hut to look at the Christmas
scene. They gazed intently at the lifelike carved figures of Mary and Joseph
surrounded by shepherds and animals. They were fascinated by the miniature sheep
and cows. We adults sat in awe at the touching and reverent way the African
children studied intently this first Christmas story. I asked my little
Tanzanian friend Yosefu what he saw. He answered quietly, "I like to look at the
baby Jesus and the animals remind me of my own home here in the village."
I asked Martina to tell the two children the Christmas
story in Kingoreme, the local African language. She began: "Children, look
carefully at the carved figures of the man and woman in the middle. Joseph and
Mary have the same names as you, but they lived a long, long time ago in country
called Israel. They were white people with a dark complexion. We believe that
God our Father, Creator and Great Elder decided to send his son Jesus Christ to
earth to save us human beings. He chose Mary to be the mother of Jesus our
"One year these two people Mary and Joseph made a long journey from their home
town of Nazareth to a town called Bethlehem to be registered in a census. Yosefu,
it’s like the long journey your father makes to Mwanza on Lake Victoria." Yosefu
nodded in agreement. Martina continued: "Since Mary was close to giving birth
she and her husband Joseph travelled slowly. They had no relatives or friends in
Bethlehem so they had to sleep in a simple cave or hut which was used as a
shelter for animals. Children, look at these miniature figures of cows and
sheep. They are being taken care of by shepherds who do the same work as your
older brothers here in Iramba village.
"It was in this simple hut on Christmas night almost 2,000
years ago that Mary gave birth to a baby boy named Jesus. Since Mary and Joseph
were in a far off land they didn’t have any relatives to help them. But the
shepherds helped them. As you can see Mary loved her baby very much and wrapped
him in a warm blanket." Little five year old Maria smiled happily, engrossed in
Mama Martina’s story. Martina went on, "Since Jesus was the firstborn son there
was great rejoicing just as in our African custom. As the news spread around
Bethlehem town other people came to visit the new baby just as our friends and
relatives do in our own home." Little Yosefu commented, "Look, they brought
gifts for the new baby just as we do here in Tanzania." Martina went on, "Yes,
and everyone was so happy that the family line would continue through a son."
Everyone in the rectory grew silent, lost in thought as they gazed on the scene
of this first Christmas.
"Well, children, do you like this Christmas story?" asked Martina. "Oh yes,"
answered Yosefu. "The little figures look so real." Maria said, "I’m happy that
I have the same name as the beautiful lady holding the baby."
At this point Martina asked the other Tanzanian mother for
her thoughts. Rosalia commented, "This little Christmas hut is like the big
African Christmas hut with large carved figures in our parish church across the
road. Remember we visited it yesterday morning before Christmas Mass." "Oh yes,"
cried Yosefu and Maria together. "It’s in the front of the church."
Rosalia continued, "Well two nights ago while both of you
were asleep we went to church for a special Night Christmas Mass. When the story
of the first Christmas was read just as Mama Martina told you now we had a
procession to put baby Jesus in the manger. We sang our traditional Kingoreme
song "We Have Come to the Home of the Child" just as we do when a baby is born
in our village. Then the women and girls danced and trilled with joy. A wave of
clapping, trilling and joyful excitement swept through the whole church."
The two Tanzanian children Yosefu and Maria were so happy.
This year they had visited two Christmas huts.