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Christmas Street
December 18, 2009

"Chipo, you have a rare talent as a dancer. One talent was given to the third servant and he buried it. A talent has been given to you, Chipo, at this wonderful time of giving, Christmas. Do not bury it."

This is the Pastor, admiring the beautiful performance that the young girl, Chipo, has presented to the congregation in the church on Christmas Street. It carries a powerful message for all, parents and children alike. The Pastor reminds his congregation that the ability to sing and dance, act and write are gifts from God and these gifts should be cherished, nurtured and helped to flourish.

This was one of the scenes and one of the Christmas messages that the annual CHIPAWO Christmas Show presented on Saturday at the Zimbabwe College of Music.

Every year since 1995 the CHIPAWO community has presented a Christmas Show with a difference. This year's show was called "Christmas Street" and was based on the goings-on in a typical street in the high-density suburbs (or 'townships') of Harare on Christmas Day..

The Christmas Show of CHIPAWO not only aims to provide an entertaining and enjoyable Christmas experience for its family audience, it also tries to do this by presenting the Christmas material with a difference - a Zimbabwean difference. Christmas and its stories are presented in an African and Zimbabwean idiom.

For CHIPAWO this is a very important responsibility - to ensure that Zimbabwean children do not accustom themselves to always looking up to foreign models and idioms but instead relate to international and national events like Christmas in their own languages and in the context of their own lives.

The show is always filmed and then screened on ZTV the following year on Christmas Day and Boxing Day. This year there will be a screening of last year's show, 'Sindile', which is a Zimbabwean adaptation of the well-known fairy story, 'Cinderella', at 2 pm on Christmas Day and then again at 1.15pm on Boxing Day.

The annual CHIPAWO Christmas Show provides a treat for the Zimbabwean family. It is a time when the whole family can celebrate the Spirit of Christmas together with Zimbabwean stories, scenes, songs and dances. In this year's performance nearly 200 children took part, All of whom have been trained in music, dance and acting at the various CHIPAWO arts education centres scattered over Harare, Chitungwiza, Norton and Bindura. So the power of performance on stage is breathtaking because of the numbers involved and brilliant because of the training that the young performers have had.

This year's show began with a short marimba overture in which snatches of carols and Zimbabwean Christmas songs are played. Then the children burst onto the stage with song and dance as the numbers swell until to the astonishment of the audience, all two hundred of the children are there, belting it out - from the layitis (infants) to the youth.

After this the Spirit of Christmas appears. This is a tradition that in every show the Spirit of Christmas appears. She acts as a sort of MC and a chorus, introducing the items and commenting on what is happening. She also intervenes in the story to help children who are unhappy or excluded during Christmas and makes sure their dreams come true.

She explains that this is not only a children's show but a children's show in Africa. Then follows a traditional dance sequence, featuring mhande, isitshikitsha and chekamwenje.

The audience is then ready for the play itself. On stage are three colourful looking houses and three dustbins mark their yards. In front of that is the street - Christmas Street. As the audience watches the street on Christmas Day begins to come to life with all the usual characters and goings-on that can be found on that day in Mbare, Mufakose and other high-density suburbs. There are gossips, people drinking and dancing, people from church singing carols and exhorting others to go to church. Some boys are kicking a ball and youths playing the 'Money Game'. Father Christmas makes an appearance and people have their photo taken with him as he gives sweets to the children.

The highlight of the morning is the church service, followed in the afternoon by the Youth Bash, where it is the turn of modern dance to shine as the youth give a brilliantly co-ordinated and synchronised display. Finally, all the children bounce onto stage and deliver the characteristic Finale of carols and Christmas songs in Shona and English, bringing down the roof in the process, and with the audience invited to join in and the children going into the audience to dance and sing, it all ends in a joyous Christmas celebration.

The idea of Zimbabwean children celebrating Christmas with their families in the Zimbabwean way in one that CHIPAWO would like to see spread. CHIPAWO hopes that the Children's Christmas Show will become a national event and that other cities, like Bulawayo, Masvingo and Mutare will take up the idea and have their own Zimbabwean celebrations of Christmas by Zimbabwean children for Zimbabwean families. In case anyone thinks this is chauvinism, it should be said that experience has shown that visitors to Zimbabwe and foreigners always appreciate something done in the local style.

This year's show was directed by Chipo Basopo, with traditional dance choreographed by Enock Majeza and marimba and steel band by Clency Gwaze, with many others giving a helping hand.

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