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Zimbabweans dream of a rainy Christmas

Images of Santa mix with tropical thunderstorms and visits to rural Africa.

A Zimbabwean Santa Claus at the Greatermans department store in Harare. (GlobalPost)

HARARE, Zimbabwe — It must be Christmas. Santa Claus is once again evident in his red suit and white beard. He can be found in Zimbabwean newspaper ads and Harare's department stores. He is also busy on Christmas cards as he delivers his gifts to lucky youngsters across the nation. He is of course assisted by Rudolph and his team of reindeers.

One might think this traditional holiday scene unremarkable except that it is to be found in tropical southern Africa, not in snowy Canada or Norway.

The portrayals of Christmas in Zimbabwe are similar to those in northern climes. There are carols by candlelight, nativity plays at primary schools and decorated fir trees sparkling in windows. Even Bing Crosby dreaming, in the 1940s, of a white Christmas is no stranger to this country, thanks to satellite dishes.

Zimbabweans are united in their Christian faith however divided they may be in politics. Churches are packed on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. You may wish your friends and neighbors a “Merry Christmas” or a “Happy Christmas” but certainly not a politically correct “Happy Holidays.”

Despite these images of a traditional Christmas between the Limpopo and Zambezi rivers, there are, of course, reminders of reality.

Storm clouds gather daily as December falls in the middle of Zimbabwe's crucial rainy season. The rains are welcomed as they make the growing season a success. We are so used to thunderstorms in December that the crack of thunder and a sudden downpour puts many people into the festive spirit.

A fly swatter is always handy. And while a turkey, imported from Brazil, occupies pride of place on the dining room table of wealthier homes, for many in Harare’s teeming townships the treat will be chicken and sadza, the staple dish of maize-meal porridge.

No puddings or chocolates here. Residents will be lucky to have water. And even in the better-off homes, water and power shortages persist. The hum of generators can be heard across the city as those who can afford it power up their ovens and television sets.

Not so long ago, people would evacuate the cities at Christmas, returning to their home villages where roots run deep. There the feast may be a goat although those with jobs in the city would be expected to bring a wide range of goods. Now many prefer to remain in the townships eking out Christmas fare wherever they can find it.