Friday, December 20, 2013

Holidays in the Democratic Republic of Congo

Our PioneerPlanet Holiday Series and the Fall 2013 Finals Week are quickly coming to an end! We wish everyone a safe and wonderful winter break, and hope that you've enjoyed reading our holiday posts. We've enjoyed writing them, and in the process, learning more about the world in which we live! Keep reading because in this post we have the holidays in the Democratic Republic of Congo, or DRC for short, and last but not least, Nate will finish up the week with the holidays in Greece. If you've missed the previous posts, we've covered the holidays in Germany, Switzerland, Mexico, the United KingdomHolland, Brazil, the Basque Country, Japan, Burkina Faso, and Thailand.

The Congo River
Over 75 million people live in the Democratic Republic of Congo, the second largest country in Africa by area, and the 11th largest in the world. Right next door is located the Republic of the Congo. Despite the similarities in names, these are two distinct countries with separate histories. The DRC gained its independence from Belgium on the 30th of June, 1960. Throughout recent history, it has been known by many names including Congo Free State, Belgian Congo, Republic of the Congo, and Zaire.
The Democratic Republic of Congo

The land area of the DRC in comparison with that of the USA

Neighboring country: Republic of the Congo
The official language of the DRC is French, with Lingala, Kikongo, Swahili and Tshiluba as other nationally recognized languages. The city of Kinshasa, located on the Congo River, is the designated capital of the DRC with a population of over 9 million people. Kinshasa is also the second largest francophone urban area in the world, after Paris.

Kinshasa skyline by night

When it comes to religion, the DRC has a relatively long history of Christianity, beginning with the arrival of the Roman Catholic Church in the late 1500's. Later on, as in many places around the world, the colonial powers worked hand in hand with Christian missionaries, further cementing the religion's hold in the country. Today, 35 million people in the DRC are Roman Catholics, translating to roughly half of the population. 80-95% of the total population, whether Roman Catholic or not, identifies as Christian. In very recent years, Islam has been slowly growing as a religious presence as well.

A church in Kindu, DRC
In terms of the holidays, this means that Christmas is widely celebrated in the DRC. However, unlike many of the countries which we have covered so far, Christmas in the Democratic Republic of Congo is more of a religious observation than a commercialized holiday. To learn more about the holidays, I spoke with Dr. Annie Kinwa-Muzinga, from the UW-Platteville Department of Agriculture, who is from the DRC. I learned that gift giving is not traditionally a part of Christmas. Instead, Congolese celebrate with their families by attending church, which usually begins at 10:00 pm and runs until 12:00 a.m. Some stay to continue to pray until the dawn.

Dawn on the Congo River, which separates DRC capital Kinshasa from Republic of the Congo capital Brazzaville
Another important tradition for Roman Catholic families is to watch the Pope's Christmas Address on T.V. Dr. Annie talked about Christmas memories of watching the Pope's Address every year on a small black and white T.V. set as a child.

Pope Francis
While Christmas may be more of a spiritual holiday, the celebration of New Year's on the other hand, is a much noisier holiday! It's called "Cross Over", referring to the moment when the old year crosses over into the new. Congolese gather for a big dinner with their families and this is generally an occasion on which meat is eaten. For those with the means, a goat or cow will be slaughtered for the meal. For others, chicken or fish makes up the special dish. Those in the community who are wealthier generally hold fancy parties for the occasion. Once again, there is a heavily spiritual component, and beginning at 8 p.m., the churches are packed and the people sing and dance until midnight. It is felt that the crossing over of the New Year should be spent with God, so at about a quarter to midnight, the pastor will ask everyone to begin praying.  About 30 minutes later, Dr. Annie says, the parties begin! People dance and sing in the streets, and visit all of the parties wishing a "Happy New Year!" to everyone along the way. As the New Year begins on the morning of the 1st of January, you will see kids with brand new clothes. New Year is celebrated in the DRC for the entire month of January. All the way up until the 31st of January you will continue to hear New Year's greetings and people will often expect small gifts as well! 

Thanks to Dr. Annie for her help! If you are interested in learning more about the Democratic Republic of the Congo, check out this article, from CNN, "10 Things to Know Before Visiting the Democratic Republic of the Congo." It discusses things such as the music scene in the DRC as a main export of the country, the Congolese affinity for mayonnaise, and the wildlife (Okapis!) of the country, among other topics. Additionally, be sure to visit the U.S. Department of State's Factsheet or the BBC's Overview for more general information. (Note: the DRC is also a country currently facing immense challenges, with a brutal recent history, including the Second Congo War begun in 1998 and with fighting continuing today. The United Nations has called this country the "rape capital of the world." Travelers are currently advised not to visit the DRC. These are not issues I discussed in the blog post, but there are ample information sources online that I would encourage everyone to utilize to learn more about what is occurring. To begin with, read the numerous articles pertaining to the DRC on the New York Times, or from the Wall Street Journal, or any other sources you may find.)

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