It’s the festive season again…

Another year will soon bite the dust. And so, with the festive season on our doorsteps, I, like most people have a little excitement brewing inside. It’s that euphoric feeling of love, of family, of laughter, and just being. The anticipation of that moment of reconnection with loved ones, the warm familiar hugs, and laughter from tales told till dawn. I get a little choked up thinking about it. Maybe it’s because I haven’t seen my parents in a very long time. However, that fuzzy warm feeling is quickly replaced by my defiant streak as I ponder on the meaning of ‘the holiday’. I cannot speak for other cultures, but I can confidently say that for most Africans ‘holiday’ means going home, to one’s village of origin. A journey that entails traveling hundreds or thousands of kilometers just to see the smiles on the older generation momentarily forgotten because of the toils and hardships brought about by the blue-collar job life in the cities.

For the most part, in western culture, ‘holiday’ means a time of touring, exploring; just being away from home entirely. But it is without a doubt that for most cultures across the world, the festive season or Christmas and New Year holidays embody a similar meaning; that of a family reunion. Bearing that in mind, but with my thoughts still churning, and a little chuckle escaping my lips, I get lost in another universe. The quest to unearth the real meaning of the festive season for women. Those Kitchen Traditions. As a mother, I cook all the time. As a woman, patriarchy has decided that cooking is my role. As for me, being the artistic individual I am, cooking is something I do well. But that does not mean I want to do it all the time.

Christmas cooking in the village

It means bonding time with the matriarchs…

I could never be a chef, it’s too daunting a task and I envy people who cook for a living. Honestly speaking, I hate domestic chores. But, when we talk about holidays or the festive season, those words can never have true meaning without food as the infusion. Holidays are always associated with celebrations, and this is more true for the end of year holidays, hence the phrase ‘festive season. It is truly a festivity of endless feasting with an array of dishes on display. The tradition in my family is such that whenever I arrive at my hometown for Christmas, my mother, and aunt; both in old age, pass the cooking baton to me instantly. It is not done maliciously; rather, it’s an accolade. They pass the baton on proudly and also with a tinge of relief that finally, they get to sit back, relax and enjoy a meal prepared by hands other than theirs.

After literally a whole year of the monotonous, uninspired dishes and ingredients they concoct, they are truly happy to see a different pair of hands whipping up something in those old pots and pans they have been hoarding for years and refuse to get rid of. Talk about the vintage collection. The kitchen for my mother and I signifies something bigger than just a place for cooking. It’s our bonding space, the only opportunity we get to catch up; just the two of us. So, as I peel, slice, cut, dice, and stir, she is either by the sink washing the cutlery and juice glasses that magically reappear and keep piling up throughout the day. If not, she is seated by the old rickety wooden table marvelling at my cooking skills or pinching the diced raw veggies, her vegetarian pallet totally failing the gluttony test. I haven’t heard a complaint yet, but I am certain that our laughter gets carried far by the wind to the neighbours across the gravel road as we gossip and enjoy the simplicity of rural life.

Feeding the family at Christmas

And then the patriarchy rears its head…

But as beautiful as all that sounds, I can’t dismiss the niggling thought irritating my ever so overzealous feministic mind right now. You see, my mind keeps popping the question; when do I get to rest? When do I get to have a ‘real’ Christmas holiday? Is it still considered a holiday when I am still slaving away catering for the patriarchy stomachs? By I, I mean us, women, females, or the “other gender” as they refer to us these days. How are we on holiday when we still wake up on Christmas day before everyone else to prepare a scrumptious breakfast followed by the immediate peeling and prepping for the big lunch meal? No rest.

The funny thing is, as irritated and robbed of a holiday by this tradition as I may feel right now, given an opportunity, I don’t think I would change a thing. There is a high chance that I would complain till my dying day, but I would still continue doing it. I certainly would not want to be the Grinch; the one wiping away the smiles of ‘palate satisfaction’ from my children, my mother, and other family members present. Their tongues licking their lips in delicacy pleasure does something to me. It unearths that warm fuzzy feeling from the pit of my stomach, and I don’t want to lose it.

Women are inevitably expected to cook for the whole family

And so…

Their happiness is my addiction I have come to concede. It is how I have been socialized, raised, cultured, brainwashed, and been convinced that ‘the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach’. So even I, as strong as my feministic views are, find myself bowing and still catering to patriarchy. Not because I am commanded to, but because the act brings pleasure to my soul. Patriarchy has indeed successfully tricked me by soothing and massaging my ego into believing that only I can make that meal befitting to be called the Christmas meal. I can honestly say, cooking during the festive season is a selfish act for me, contrary to the meaning of Christmas. I am, after all, catering to my bruised ego, that, of not being appreciated. And yes, I am cooking this Christmas!