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Site Last Update: 11 Dec, 2019
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The Turkana Celebrate a Feast of Light and Hope
By Bernard Ruhnau

The Turkana nomad such as Losikiria in northwestern Kenya never dreamed of a white Christmas or any other Christmas traditions that come from the western world.

As he leads his camels and cattle across the rolling hills of Turkana he finds his one hope in an otherwise hopeless night - the light of a distant fire in his manyatta, the thorn bush enclosure of corrals and huts which he calls his home. His thoughts are on his wife who will soon give birth to a child who will be his security in his old age. Hope from a newly lit fire and the Turkana nomads symbolically unite security from a newly born baby. These symbols become part of their Christmas celebrations.

Under the star-filled dome of a perfectly clear sky, Turkana nomads such as Losikiria sit on the sandy ground as the celebrant starts the Christmas Midnight Eucharist. Although few Turkana are Christians, they are a religious people who according to their customs traditionally pray actively and fervently. Now in the liturgy they pray new prayers of hope: "Father, you make this holy night radiant with the splendor of Jesus Christ, our light. We welcome him as Lord, the light of the world."

Once the birth of Christ is proclaimed during the Gospel of the Eucharistic celebration, all the women run into the manyatta with shouts of joy to light a fire as they would traditionally do when a child is born.

According to their custom they should now bring the fire into the hut of the mother; so symbolically they bring the Christmas fire into the house of the oldest woman because elders have positions of honor in the Turkana Ethnic Group. Meanwhile the men have been waiting outside in the darkness. They enter with great joy and greet the child symbolized by the new fire.

The outdoor Eucharist continues as a thanksgiving celebration for the birth of Christ, "the light of the world." Then follows a cheerful traditional feast and the Christmas blessing. During these celebrations the fire is tended by two elderly women and remains the focus of attention for all the Turkana nomads. It is a symbol for their one hope in an otherwise hopeless night. They know that God is present among them. For "the kindness and love of God our Savior has appeared to all people" (Titus 3:4).