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Cultural Talk: January blues

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The first dewy days of January were filled with promise and steadfast determination. The remainder of the month is often a struggle for a few reasons. The Christmas shopping bank-drain is really taking its toll. It’s only a Sunday – still far from payday.

After the excesses of December, which now seem to take over the whole month, not just Christmas, January comes as a difficult month for most of us Malawians. It is a month for dishonesty, a month for theft, debtors and a month most simply just dread. The reasons are simple. There are almost always increased prices on commodities, annual increments on rentals and other things etc.

But mostly most Malawians dread January because it reminds us of how unwise we had been in December, the month of celebration. While other people are busy celebrating the New Year, most of us are usually welcoming it but with a heavy heart, we wish that January could be taken off the calendar but unfortunately January is here to stay.

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If it were taken off the calendar, there would still be February, which consequently would have taken the place of January. In January, most of the people who owe you money will have all sorts of funny excuses.

Somehow we have made January an excuse for a lot of things. The truth of the matter is that we spend unwisely during the holidays. If we get bonuses at work, for those of us who work, we spend beyond our bonus.

I don’t know what it is about the season that makes us all lose our heads and forget all else when we are celebrating. We spend a lot of money, some of it on entertaining, to gift giving, decorating and merry making. Reminded of my old teacher’s favorite saying, “prevention is better than cure,” I’d say that the best safeguard against the January blues is to prevent them.

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All of these things are important and must be done, but why not save for a couple of months prior to the month of December for these things and add it to the Christmas bonus so that other important day-to-day or month-to-month after-theholidays- are-gone things are not affected?

Some cultures actually save all year long in order to beat the holiday aftermath if not for any other reason, and this works for them. I imagine that rural masses don’t have too much of a problem with this “norm” because they don’t and cannot even afford to live beyond their means. Most of them celebrate responsibly and sparingly.

I do know that the idea of telling us to celebrate sparingly is unheard of as we are used to it, but the way I see it, there are only two options that I see we have in order to beat the January blues.

Plan in advance, save all year long, have a holiday package in place, make it part of tradition, a bonus by its very nature is and should just be a bonus and nothing else.

Option number two, which none of us would agree to; is to spend sparingly during the holidays. In this context, the word “sparingly” can be used interchangeably with the word “wisely.”

There is a lot of after-holiday anxiety and stress that can be avoided if we saved and spent wisely. I am willing to bet that even bills are higher than any other time of the year in January because of entertaining and so on.

Perhaps if you are the type of people who travel for the holidays do not experience this but be sure that there is nothing for free. There is always someone paying. If you visit family, they are the ones paying extra for water, for electricity and food. No mahala so they say.

The truth is we don’t have to spend as much as we do in order to enjoy the holidays. I know most of us would opt to spend the entire month of January at home if that were possible so that we don’t face some of the challenges that come with it.

Most of us for some reason do not take advantage of the seasonal bargains that are offered by shops some time prior to the holidays.

Just like it is way cheaper to buy an umbrella during the summer than it is to purchase one during the rainy season. It is also cheaper to buy winter wear in summer than it is to do so during the winter.

Why not make wisdom part of our tradition? Planning ahead, saving, spending wisely and or sparingly and taking advantage of sales and going out of business bargains? Or else we need to stop “Kuzipepesa” only to be crying later because of the January blues! But the beauty with January is that it comes with the rains hence lots of natural vegetables, fruits, ngumbi, ziwala, – why not adapt? Call it “eating healthily”!

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