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The founder and director of leadership development organisation JOLT International, on Christmases in Kenya, feasting on samosas and mandazi and a very unconventional Christmas jumper


What epitomises Christmas in London for you?

Celebration of my Christian faith, freezing cold weather but the warmth of the season and the promise of quality family time. A frenzy of almost possessed shopping, but as it is all aimed at Christmas cheer, why not? The lights and the beautiful shop displays all around the capital.


What’s your earliest Christmas memory?

I honestly cannot remember but this was the season for the annual escape to the country. Retreat from Nairobi to our rural home in Western Kenya, Bunyala. The excitement of Christmas Day and mass in Kinyala, which frankly I understood very little of, but loved the sound of. Family time, delicious food, lazy days in the house my dad built in the 1980s.


What smells and tastes do you associate with the festive period?

Roast chicken, not turkey. The stereotype of my Luhya tribe is the high level of chicken and tea consumption, which would be true for me were it not for the fact that I only began eating chicken in the UK after the onset of mad cow disease. Necessity is the mother of invention. Get those proteins. Sorry, I digress – roast potatoes, Kenyan pilau, samosas, mandazi, delicious lean beef stew with all manner of Kenyan delicacies, and how could I forget chapatis.


Do you prefer Christmas pudding, Christmas cake or a chocolate yule log?

Chocolate yule log.


What’s on your Christmas list to receive from The Royal Exchange?

I love the Tiffany T range at Tiffany & Co., especially the gold and turquoise bracelet. Aspinal of London’s Florence Frame bag is also on my list, and of course any of Fortnum & Mason’s indulgent hampers.


What’s your Christmas gift-wrapping style?

Often simple because last-minute shopping does not allow for elaborate but if you pop into Fortnum & Mason, the presentation is so elaborate, beautiful and ornate that wrapping may not be necessary. That’s my tip for you: you don’t have to dress up what is already immaculately presented. I used to be the family professional gift wrapper, but it seems this didn’t improve with age. I must revert to curly ribbons, gift tags, etc.


Do you have any special, unique or unconventional Christmas traditions?

Christmas mass is always uplifting but food preparation, not so much. I overdo it and get stressed. Everyone should cook one or two dishes to contribute to the seasonal feast.

I am old-school and grew up with the concept of Sunday best. Therefore Christmas Eve and Christmas Day require a bit of wardrobe effort even if the weather calls for warmth. So herald faux fur, thigh-high and knee-high boots, feathers, tartan and afterwards, some guest-worthy loungewear after discarding the ‘cooking clothes’.

A white Christmas is great but that’s because many on these shores haven’t had a tropical or beach one. Sigh. What colour gloves shall I wear this year?


Do you possess a Christmas jumper?

No. Do I need one? Will a metallic luxurious knit with chain-print arms ever qualify?


What’s your favourite Christmas film?

I don’t have one but those Scrooge ones are usually good. Anything with a happy ending. The food indulgence usually induces a well-deserved nap, so films are watched in between naps.


Do you have a favourite Christmas song?

Away in a Manger. I can’t sing to save my life but when other voices are loud enough to drown my whisper, or when I am in the shower, I love a good old Christmas carol.

Above I mentioned Bunyala masses, which had some drums, tambourines and kayambas. If you can’t sing or dance, damn the world and be merry – find joy being out of tune and out of step. Fortunately, I am sometimes out of tune but blissfully so, and polite enough not to let others suffer it.


What signifies the start of the festive season for you?

Thankfully it’s not the marketing in store and online straight after Hallowe’en. For me it’s shopping for the ingredients for Christmas lunch and gifts for the little people in my life. Their delight at simple gifts is priceless, even unwrapping is filled with fun. I understand one of my family members wants to ban trees and gifts because of the commercialism but my mum and I are holding firm, for the sake of the kids. They can discard it when they are older. Admittedly with all the eating, drinking, dressing up, going out and shopping, the reason for the season is lost. It’s the birth of Christ, God the Saviour as a vulnerable child. I know London is largely atheist but I believe in Christ, salvation and the Holy Trinity. I am happy that everyone can delight in the spirit of Christmas, which is sharing, regardless of religious views.


What do you think is the best way to help others at Christmas time?

Give to charities supporting the homeless. Invite someone or a group of people you know will be alone during the festive season.


Jacqueline Onalo FRSA is a multi-award-winning human rights lawyer, leadership and legal trainer, coach, diversity and inclusion expert and founder of the JOLT youth mentorship programme.