It’s the most wonderful time of year and our Impact Officer, Sam Nkirote McKenzie, shares her favorite local traditions, bites, and how she will celebrate the holiday this year!

December is by far my favorite month; it starts strong with my birthday in the first week, the weather in Nairobi is fab, nothing but sunshine and blue skies, and then there are all things Christmas! 

I get into the festive spirit as soon as I hear Christmas music piped into stores and jingles playing on the radio. I love it when the tinsel, garland, baubles, stars, balloons, ribbon, and Christmas lights in every festive color you can imagine go up around buildings and in shops, offices, and homes. My regular Boda Boda (motorbike taxi) even has tinsel on the front of his bike, although I do wonder if that's just for my benefit — he knows how much I love Christmas! I am thrilled when I bump into unexpected sights like a Christmas Tree with face mask ornaments. Could anything be more 2020?!? 

I like to get my Christmas shopping done early, so I go to all the bazaars, fairs, and craft markets that start in November. I buy local and support small businesses, which is not hard — they do, after all, make the best gifts. I buy some things every year, like delicious seasonal crackers and cheese from Brown’s Cheese. And I always pick up a few sets of Dragonfly Designs’ Christmas crackers, made from hand screen-printed paper with an African proverb and little gift inside made by Kenyan artisans; they always sell out, so I make sure to get in early. As I shop, I am on the lookout for the best stocking fillers, and this year our holiday bracelets make a great addition. My family is going to be twinning with their Metallic Love Bracelets.

Every year, I head down to Peponi Road in Nairobi’s Westlands area to pick up a Christmas Tree. Super-tall trees always tempt me, but common sense usually prevails, and I get one that can fit through the door of my apartment. This year, however, I’m skipping the Christmas Tree because, like most people in quarantine, I have become a plant person or at least a wannabe plant person, and I have decided to decorate my plants. I picked up these ornaments handmade from wooden offcuts from Kuzi, my favorite plant store. And I discovered the most incredible selection of decorations on Swahili Modern; here are some of my favorites:

Santas from Kenana Knitters, a knitting cooperative in the small agricultural town of Njoro situated on the western rim of Kenya’s Rift Valley.

Reindeer hand-carved from soapstone by the Undugu Society’s artisan program, which empowers at-risk youth through holistic programs like soapstone carving.

Santa On A Bicycle’  handmade from the banana palm tree’s fiber by an artisan collective in Kiambu County’s Banana Hill area.

Ball ornaments made from recycled flip-flops collected from landfills and made into one-of-a-kind art by a co-op of artists working from a small Nairobi workshop.

Santa’s ‘animal helpers’ hand-carved by members of the Gikomba Wood Carving Cooperative in Nairobi, Kenya.

With all my Christmas shopping sorted, I attend every pantomime, nativity play, and carol service I can. Last year, The Nutcracker by Dance Centre Kenya at the National Theater was the highlight of the season for me. With all performances canceled this year, I have been blasting Mariah Carey's Christmas songs and treating myself to the buttery almond cookies from BBROOD and piping hot Gingerbread Mocha’s from Java House to make up for it.

With work winding up for the year and offices closing, I, like most Kenyans, start planning my trip up-country to visit family, but this year I’ll be staying in Nairobi and celebrating with my immediate family and neighbors. Christmas won’t be the same this year; for one, I won't attend midnight mass on Christmas Eve because of the nationwide curfew between 10 pm and 4 pm. Still, this year has made me realize how lucky I am, and I feel incredibly grateful and hopeful for a better year ahead. And I can't wait for Christmas day, my neighbours and I plan to chip in to buy a goat and gather for a meal of Nyama Choma, Kiswahili for ‘roasted meat.’ I have even been doing all my grocery shopping at Naivas supermarkets in the hopes of winning one of the 800 goats they are giving away this year. Keep your fingers crossed for me!

A safe and happy holidays to you and yours.