In Kishasa they sing through the night. In Mexico City, the streets and houses are adorned with bright red flowers that brings luck year round. In Russia, where snow is practically guaranteed, they swap presents at New Year and don’t celebrate Christmas until a week later. So how (indeed if at all) do lendwithcare entrepreneurs celebrate Christmas and how does it affect their businesses? We asked our MFIs exactly this.
In Benin, Christmas is very popular and is celebrated in all homes, whether Christian or not. It is very much a family occasion. Houses are cleaned and decorated with trees & garlands, presents are exchanged and special meals are prepared from yam and beans to fish or mutton. Father Christmas arrives with presents for the young children and many of our entrepreneuers will visit those in need or alone at this time of year: orphans, prisoners and the elderly.
But the festive season is far from quiet for entrepreneurs. As our ACFB, our chosen MFI in Benin told us: “The celebration time at Christmas is the period par excellence for business in Benin. Trading is intense, especially on the markets selling toys, gastronomy, clothes, shoes, garlands, and ornaments for example. Each stall owner manages to keep on their shelves the products in higher demand by customers both regular and new. The main routes in the towns and countryside are transformed into temporary markets. Usually during this period the majority of ACFB’s clients are rushing to get loans.”
The entrepreneurs funded through lendwithcare live in the south of Benin near the coast, where there are two rainy seasons and two dry seasons; from December to February the air is hot and dry as the dust of the harmattan wind blows across West Africa.
Next door in Togo, weather, business and celebrations are similar. Special dishes are served with drinks such as whisky, coca-cola and a local beer made from millet. Our MFI partners WAGES told us that: “Christmas is one of the most important holidays in the country. Christmas is an opportunity for our communities to do special things such as give beautiful gifts to families and parents like chickens, sheep, cloth, wine, drink cans and bags of rice. This is the time of great reunion and we took the opportunity to reconcile quarrelling members. Best wishes are formulated in those days.”
Depending on their business, it can be the busiest time of year for some entrepreneurs; those that work in bars and restaurants or as tailors, hairdressers and taxi dressers are barely able to celebrate at all.
As Cambodia is mostly Buddhist, Christmas is not celebrated by most. However, businesses may grow to meet demand from those who do. Across the South China Sea in the Philippines, the opposite is true for 90% of the population belong to the Christian faith, of which the vast majority are Catholic. Here, they lay a claim to the world’s longest Christmas celebrations, as carol singers visit houses as early as September. Religious devotion is central to their celebrations and is perhaps typified by Simbang Gabi – a mass attended for nine consecutive days; a tradition which if completed is believed to result in the wish of the believer being granted. Despite the recent floods in the Philippines (which did not affect the area of the country where our partner MFI is based), the Christmas spirit is kept alive, as SEED Finance told us: “This season of the year is truly an important occasion for all Christians in the Philippines. As long as God’s spirit and guidance is present in everyone’s heart, the Filipino Christmas will always be the happiest no matter what challenges come ahead.”
Closer to home in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Christmas is celebrated by some and not by others; there are a roughly equal number of Muslims to Christians. Many Christians fast but prepare cakes and dishes in time for Christmas celebrations. Christians and Muslims alike visits friends, family and collegeues. Our MFI partner Zene za Zene told us that as Muslims they celebrate two ‘Bajrams’: the two major Muslim festivals that mark the end of Ramadan and pilgrimage to Mecca. They told us that for Christians and Muslims alike: 'For all holidays in Bosnia and Herzegovina peoples are more close and friendly to each other.'
All of our partner MFIs and indeed everybody at lendwithcare would like to express their thanks to lenders in the UK and their wishes of good health, prosperity and happiness to all those who lend their money so generously. Good will and a very Merry Christmas to all!
By Emma Howard, assistant at lendwithcare.org