By Aggrey Nyondwa KikoberaThirteen-year-old Assumpta Ajonye, the leader of the children’s choir at her father’s church in Bidibidi, can’t hide how excited she is about a new dress that her father has promised to buy for her this Christmas.“My father always buys for us new clothes, every year on Christmas,” says Ajonye.“Last year I got a white dress and I will be waiting for another one this year. Three of my siblings have already gotten theirs.”Assumpta, who leads a group of jolly and vibrant boys and girls singing ‘Joy to the World,’ says they start singing Christmas songs as soon as December comes.She has had three Christmases in BidiBidi settlement, and can barely remember the ones in her home country, South Sudan. Assumpta’s elder sister, Gloria Isaac, vividly remembers some good Christmas days in South Sudan.“In South Sudan we would have all the freedom,” says Gloria. “We could visit relatives during the holiday, and move as far away as we wanted, because we knew so many people.” Things are different in Uganda, home to 1.4 million refugees, with over 220,000 living in BidiBidi settlement. “The settlement is a bit confined, and most of our relatives are not here,” she says.Christmas in the pastAs the festive jingles from the singing children reach his ears, the girls’ father, Pastor Isaac Badaye, drifts into a distant memory of life, as a boy of 10, the Christmas of 1979, in his home village of Mugo, in Yei, South Sudan.Everyone was running around—a bull, a goat and chicken have been slaughtered, all to celebrate the birth of Christ! Isaac’s whole clan has come together at his uncle’s place, to enjoy one big Christmas meal.“It was the best Christmas I have ever had,” he says. “Christmas and the days leading to it were always sweet and merry, the most beautiful time of the year indeed.”Completely lost down memory lane, Isaac says, “We would wait for it [Christmas] the whole year, basically with three things to be excited about, eating a lot of good food, getting a new cloth, and going to church.”As the other children waited for new clothes from their parents, Isaac and his siblings usually didn’t get a cloth for Christmas from their parents. “We were quite many at home and my parents didn’t have a lot, and unlike other parents who would try their best, ours didn’t care much whether we got a new cloth or not,” he says.The Pastor adds that he doesn’t want his own children to experience the same, and this is why, like many other parents still do, he ensures that all his young children get new clothes for Christmas.“I know I didn’t get much from my family especially around this period, but I still want the best for my children. If everyone is getting a new shoe or dress or shirt for Christmas, then why not my children?” he asks.Christmas PresentsIsaac’s wife, Charity Kira, says the Christmas meal requires a lot of preparation. She wakes up before dawn to start preparing Christmas lunch.“We literally don’t sleep on Christmas Eve. We go for overnight in the church up to after midnight, and by 4 a.m., I and the girls are up to start cooking.” And cook she does. “I cook many kinds of dishes; chicken, goat’s meat, mingled cassava, rice and others, and I use the best spices I can find in the market. A Christmas meal has to be special,” she says.That Christmas meal is so special that families rear chicken and goats from as early as April, specifically to be prepared for the next Christmas.This is because buying a cock or goat the months towards Christmas is a challenge for many. The prices go high. Those who cannot afford to slaughter a chicken, duck or a goat, buy meat from the market.Christmas BusinessThe Christmas season is indeed a time when the market soars. Susan Nyoka, 40, a shoe trader in Bidibidi, sells over 500 pairs between November and December.“Right from November, customers dramatically increase,” she says. “I wait the whole year to make such sales, but It is always worth it. During this season, I add more stock and ensure to bring the latest fashion and designs on the market.”Like many traders in the settlement, she targets food distribution points where people usually come in large numbers to collect their food ration, and conduct Christmas business.”Business is at the peak in November and December in the campAt Yoyo Food Distribution Point, World Vision, in partnership with World Food Programme distributes food to 4,000 people every day. It makes the perfect market for traders. Over 5,000 people camp outside the food distribution point, especially during the Christmas season to buy clothes and shoes in anticipation.Colourful clothes hang in stalls and others lay on the ground, strategically intended to attract any prospective customers. Small crowds of men and women, with their children, surround a few specific sellers considered to have the best designs and prices.Jackline Apai, deals in children’s clothes at Yoyo Food Distribution Point, selling over 30 dresses every day during the Christmas season.“During this season, we make some good money,” she says. “We were worried that because of COVID-19, people will not have the money this time, but it turns out that they had saved it already, specifically for Christmas shopping.”Christopher Bidal, one of Jackline’s customers, says that buying Christmas clothes for his children is one way of showing them how much he loves them. The 40-year-old says he starts planning on what to buy for the next Christmas right at the beginning of the year.Back at Pastor Isaac’s home, all the six young children have a cloth to show off from last year. Because of the many financial challenges this year, and his family size, Isaac hasn’t managed to buy for everyone yet as he usually would have by this time. He’s hopeful that by Christmas Day he will have got the money to buy for everyone as it has always been.Christmas BeautyBesides the food, the singing, and booming business at the market, Christmas is also a time to decorate and paint houses with messages of the birth of Christ. Some of the graffiti stays throughout the year, whereas most of it is washed away by the April rains.“It’s an activity that children and women like participating in,” says Isaac. “Inside the houses, a few flowers and other decorating items are hung. The outside walls of many houses start getting painted with Christmas designs as early as December fifth.”Indeed, across the villages in Bidibidi and Adjumani refugee settlements, most huts have walls painted with various Christmas messages, most of it from last year, but in the coming days, new and fresh decorations will be painted.Christmas BlessingsIsaac Badaye considers Christmas to be a time of giving, especially to the poor and vulnerable. “We shouldn’t only give to our children and family members,” says Pastor Isaac, “but also to those that are in need.”Every Christmas, the Pastor reaches out to the elderly, persons with disabilities, the sick and child headed homes with food, clothes, and other essential items that he can afford.“Christmas is all about blessing someone,” he says.And no matter where you live—that’s the true meaning of Christmas indeed.