Uganda's Martyrs' Day tops celebration of feasts

  • Crowds gather around the creche at St. Peter's cathedral, Nsambya, Kampala, Uganda.
  • A Christmas sentiment at Christ the King church, Kampala, Uganda.
  • Crowds gather around the creche at St. Peter's cathedral, Nsambya, Kampala, Uganda.
  • Christmas decorations at the Kiwamirembe shrine.
  • Christmas decorations in a family home near Jinja Karoli, Uganda.
  • Thousands of pilgrims converge on the Uganda Martyrs' Shrine at Namugongo for the national feast day, June 3, 2011. Photo courtesy of Edward Echwalu.
  • Pilgrims sit next to the holy waters at the Uganda Martyrs' Shrine at Namugongo. Photo courtesy of Edward Echwalu.

In Uganda the Feast of the Uganda Martyrs, June 3, is a national holiday, as are Christmas, Boxing Day, Good Friday, and Easter Monday. Beyond these days, Ugandan Catholics are not particularly focused on a cycle of feast days.

Christmas is celebrated with a special meal that includes chicken and cooked banana. Ugandans attend Mass on Christmas Morning and celebrate with the big meal afterwards. Gifts are usually modest – one gift each in middle class families – and are given on Christmas but not opened until Boxing Day, December 26.  Christmas trees have come to Uganda as a form of decoration and are set up on Christmas Eve.

New Year’s is a time when large groups of Catholics come together for communal prayer, when churches are full for prayers. Then people celebrate loudly at midnight. The Mt. Sion shrine at Bukalongo has become a major site for New Year’s Eve prayers.

Lent is marked as it is by most Catholic societies, by some small sacrifice during the 40 days and by abstaining on Fridays. On Good Friday, as the Passion is acted out, some adult and child worshippers shout and cry as they try to visualize and internalize the suffering of Jesus. Still, the Easter vigil is the major time of celebration for Ugandans during Holy Week. Interviewees talked about the passion and Jesus’ sacrifice, but were especially focused on the joy of the Resurrection.

The Uganda Martyrs’ Feast, celebrated at the shrine at Namugongo, is an enormous cultural event.

“Bernadette” talks about her celebrations of Easter and the Uganda Martyrs feast.
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Gloria and Rose, college students, talk about how they celebrate religious feasts.
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