Christmas celebrations in Zimbabwe are usually a spectacle, with shops and malls in downtown Harare full of grand decorations.
A jubilant spirit grips the city each year, with pubs usually bustling with sounds of merriment. Street hawkers fill Harare’s narrow pavements and walkways with Christmas gifts and other eye-catching merchandise.
But this year the unprecedented pandemic has downsized Christmas celebrations.
With public consumption capped by the economic fallout from the virus, and restrictions on large gatherings still in effect, most dwellers of the city are looking forward to a low-key festive season.
Although those with permitting pockets are keen on celebrating with a bang as usual, authorities have reminded that people should adhere to COVID-19 prevention measures.
And with celebrations capped due to the pandemic, it’s traders who usually cash in on the festive season spending spree who are bearing the brunt.
Washington Chakombera, who has been selling Christmas trees and other Christmas related items at busy intersections in the more affluent suburbs of Harare for the past seven years, said 2020 has been a year like no other.
“Business is down, considering this pandemic we are facing, we didn’t receive most of our orders from abroad, and this year people have no money to spend so things are tight,” Chakombera told Xinhua.
Traditionally, December is a festive month in Zimbabwe. Some people choose to celebrate the season in their rural areas, in a serene environment, far away from the fast-paced urban life.
Mbare Musika Bus Terminus, Zimbabwe’s largest long-distance bus terminus was a hive of activity with many people going to their rural areas.
Stanford Msiska is one of those Hararians who was traveling to his rural area to celebrate the holidays.
“For some of us we are traveling to the rural areas where we get to enjoy this festive season together with the families there,” he said.
Msiska said rural areas are less crowded than urban centers, which lessens the chances of spreading or contracting the virus.
Alfred Mhondera, a bus driver, showed optimism despite the prevailing tough environment. The movement of people from the city to rural areas means money is getting into his pockets.
“Business is fine, things are fine, even though people do not have money because of the pandemic, but people are trying to make both ends meet,” he said.
Mhondera said observing pandemic prevention measures has ensured that none of his passengers contract the virus during the trip.
Sheila Gandazha, who was on her way to her rural area, said she chose to celebrate the season in the rural areas with her parents, albeit following COVID-19 preventive measures.
“We are protecting ourselves by wearing masks, following regulations such as sanitization, washing hands with soap, everywhere we are practicing social distancing so that we can have good health in our lives,” she said.
While December is largely viewed as a month of celebrating, the month is followed by a period in which parents are faced with a new school term and they have to pay school fees.
This means for those with shallow pockets the season is not marked by huge spending.
The COVID-19 pandemic has worsened the plight as many people lost their sources of income due to pandemic-induced economic shocks.
According to the World Food Program (WFP), the number of food-insecure Zimbabweans would have reached 8.6 million, or 60 percent of the population, by the end of this year owing to the combined effects of drought, economic recession, and the COVID-19 pandemic.