New Years Day (January 1): Not a whole lot of information on this other than one site that said the Congolese celebrate the coming new year with parties. Of course, these are only in certain areas of the country. Other areas are still actively fighting a civil war. In fact one small village rang in its New Year a few years ago by being subjected to one of the worst mass rapes in the history of the country: Colonel Kibibi was sentenced to 20 years in prison for ordering the attack. Doctors treated 62 village women for rape. Many people don’t have jobs and even the people who do have jobs don’t receive consistent paychecks. It makes it hard to celebrate with parties and lavish events if there’s no money to do it with. People do improvise, though, so I’m sure there may be areas that make do and make the best of it.
Day of the Martyrs (January 4): This day is in remembrance of the victims of the violence from human rights violations as well as those who were fighting for justice. In 1959, the Congolese started speaking up for their right to be independent from Belgium. Uprisings took place in Kinshasa, and hundred of people died in riots that started out as otherwise peaceful protest marches.
National Heroes’ Day (January 17): This day marks the death of Patrice Lumumba. He was one of the most widely-known independence leaders in the country. He wasn’t just known in the DRC either, he was known around the world. And actually, once independence was established, he was elected as Prime Minister. Three months later, he was ousted in a coup and was sent to prison under orders by Joseph-Desiré Mobutu. Lumumba died by a firing squad from the Katanga authorities, a secessionist mineral-rich region.
Labor Day (May 1): It’s generally celebrated as a day free from working and celebrating the workers themselves, but in the DRC, there’s not much to celebrate about. Because of war and conflict in many areas of the country (especially in the North and South Kivu areas), there is generally a sense of lawlessness (especially in those areas). It makes it really hard to have a normal functioning society to even address labor issued in these parts. Disappearances, murders, rape, starvation, and disease plague these areas. If someone was lucky enough to have a job, the workers are overworked for inadequate pay in unsafe workplaces – and these are only a few of the problems at hand. Child labor and trafficked persons are also two problems that are nearly impossible to address in many areas of the country.
Liberation Day (May 17): This holiday is for the Movement for the Liberation of the Congo rebel group during the second civil war. This movement was led by Jean-Pierre Bemba, the son of Congolese billionaire, Bemba Saolona. Each town and city holds its own street fests with food, live music, and parades.
Independence Day (June 30): This is the day that the DR Congo won its independence from Belgium. There have been military parades and other parades, which are broadcast on television. People generally celebrate the holiday in their own ways, but many people will have large meals and celebrate by having friends and family come over. It’s also a time to change the wreathes on the gravesites of loved ones who have died in war and conflict fighting.
Parents’ Day (August 1): It’s a very big deal to give cards and small gifts to their families. This day is basically combining Mother’s Day and Father’s Day together. Most women have around five children, so she normally takes care of the children and the home while the fathers work outside of the home to provide for the things that are needed.
Army Day (November 17): This day is in honor of the Armed Forces in the DR Congo. In certain areas, members of the army may get free access to museums or discounts on other events or items. It’s also a time to reflect on the military actions taking place in the country and the efforts made to stop and/or mitigate the casualties.
Christmas Day (December 25): In the DRC, Christmas remains to be a religious holiday, so much of the commercialism is lost. There isn’t the large-scale decorations and gift-giving spectacle to have to go through (I wish it were more like that in the US. This time of year always stresses me out.) Churches will often hold nativity plays and music on Christmas Eve, and families enjoy a special meal together, usually with chicken or pork.
Up next: art and literature