Longcheng Plaza – Oriental Christmas in Harare
One of the longest-serving traditions in Zimbabwe involves travelling to one’s rural home for Christmas celebrations with the extended family and friends. Most rural folks expect their loved ones from urban areas to visit them wielding all manner of goodies. In fewer cases some rural folks do the visiting to see, say a new house built by a family member in the urban areas. Except for those in critical sectors, most businesses and government departments close shop or office, in order to allow everyone to go somewhere for Christmas. Nonetheless there are some folks who cannot travel away from home for one reason or the other. They have to enjoy themselves in the comfort of their own backyards and pray for torrential rains to justify staying home. But then in these times of climate change, success in summoning the rains is no longer guaranteed however elaborate the incantation.
For many parents and guardians in Harare, the best you can do is take your children to a place called Longcheng Plaza. In fact your children will drag you there. I am yet to see a place with a greater pull for kids in Harare. The complex is a unique mixture of business and pleasure. It comprises office blocks, a vibrant shopping mall and an amusement park – the best of its kind in Harare. It is the amusement park above all else that has made Longcheng Plaza a household name. Built by the Chinese as a joint venture with Zimbabwe, the project was completed in 2013, reportedly at a cost of $84 million. All the buildings at the complex were fashioned in line with oriental architecture. If seeing is believing, then let the photos I took do the talking.
The current entry fee at Longcheng Amusement Park is $5 per child and parents or guardians do not need to pay anything. A bit of a paradox there.
Once inside the park, the first port of call is posing for some photos with Santa Claus who happens to be black when operating in Zimbabwe.
The influx of children easily creates brisk business for trinketers, clowns and food vendors.
It’s all about the kids at Longcheng. All you need to do is get them there.
There is something about entering an amusement park that just rejuvenates the human spirit. All of a sudden you just feel like a child again. You remember what it was like growing up. My daughter may never know it but for most of my peers and the generations before, facilities like Longcheng Plaza were neither readily available nor easily accessible. We only had a ‘Lunar Park’ facility that ran once in a blue moon but at Longcheng Amusement Park our children can play on any given day. Inside the amusement park it is hard to tell the haves from the have-nots. Happiness is a universal language spoken and understood by all. It is in such a place of playing and innocence that the true meaning of Christmas is brought to the surface.
And the Father of the Year award goes to the security guard still clad in his uniform but manages to steal some time to let his son be happy on Christmas, a day that comes once a year.
With all roads leading to Longcheng Plaza, Harare’s central business district is left almost deserted on Christmas Day. It had been a long time since I last saw the streets of Harare so empty. I could have shown you many parts of the city centre unobstructed by vehicles and human traffic but then my daughter was in charge of our itinerary. Yet my misfortune was not entirely unchecked. The rains might have failed me but to my financial relief most toy shops were closed.
A large number of Zimbabweans – this writer included – are increasingly starting to believe that Christmas is for children and perhaps the young at heart. Happiness for adults on the day is to be derived from watching children feeling happy. They do not have to be your own children per se but any kids within your vicinity. Not to say grown-ups have no fun on this festive day, they do. A self-granted general amnesty regarding the amount of fluids or solids consumed by mankind, normally kicks in with effect from Christmas Eve until receiving that bone-chilling call from the bank. Without ignoring its globally accepted religious connotations, Christmas in Zimbabwe is generally a secular affair calling for nothing but pomp and fanfare. Zimbabweans literally wait for Christmas and plan for it several weeks in advance. The chief planners are the kids, whose wish lists will make you think they somehow believe your name was unfairly dropped from the Forbes List.
Until next year, this is it folks.