Christmas is widely celebrated in the continent of Africa. There are more than 350 million Christians living in Africa. As Christianity spread around the world, countries in south and northwest Africa adopted this religion as the dominating one and the number of Christians will rise even higher in the next decades. This is why in many African countries Christmas is one of the most important holidays of the year. Even in some of Africa’s Muslim countries, Christmas is celebrated too. For example, in Senegal, predominantly a Muslim country, some mosques are often decorated with Christmas lights.
Of course Christmas in Africa has great spiritual meaning and is not as commercialized as in the developed countries of Europe or Northern America – this is probably a reason why in every country there are so many interesting local traditions and cultural differences.
As in the most Christian cultures in Europe and the Americas, having Christmas dinner with friends and relatives is the most popular activity after attending the church. Christmas is usually an official public holiday, so people use the opportunity to spend time with their friends and family. In East Africa they roast goats. In South Africa, where it is a summer season, they cook braais (grilled barbecues). In Liberia they eat rice, beef and biscuits and in Zimbabwe there must be goat meat, bread, jam and tea on the table. Dishes are different from country to country and they are often accompanied by many fascinating local traditions which the foreign tourists love to see.
As Christianity spread in Africa it soon appeared in Egypt and in other parts of north Africa. There are presently two groups of Christians in Egypt- Egyptian Orthodox Christians and Coptic Christians. Both groups celebrate Christmas on the 7th of January. Usually people go to church where they are given special bread called “Qurban”. After church service people go home and have a festive meal which is called “fatta”. It includes rice and meat. Children get small amount of money called “El ‘aidia” from the adults with which they buy sweets and toys.
In Ethiopia most Christians go to the Ethiopian Orthodox Church and also celebrate Christmas on the 7th January. In Ethiopia, they call it “Ganna”. The main dish served at Christmas is a stew called “wot” and made of meat and vegetables. Instead of a spoon, Ethiopians use flat bread called “injera”. Children don’t usually get Christmas presents. This holiday is more about going to church, eating together with the family and playing games.
In South Africa, people celebrate Christmas in summer because December is one of the hottest months of the year. Usually in South Africa, people eat traditional Christmas meals which include mince pies, yellow rice, turkey, suckling pig, etc. For the dessert people like to eat puddings like Lekker Pudding or Christmas Pudding. The festivities are accompanied by singing the Christmas Carols.
In Ghana, there’s singing and dancing just as in many other countries of Africa. In the church there typically will be a Nativity play in which children take part. After church service in the morning everybody exchanges small presents. During Christmas meal people eat stew or okra (gumbo) soup, yam paste called fufu, and porridge.
During Christmas meal people eat stew or okra (gumbo) soup, yam paste called fufu, and porridge.
One of the most widespread Christmas traditions in Nigeria is the decorating of premises with palm leaves which symbolize peace. The “Ekon” play is tradition which the people of Nigeria treasure and love – a group of children dances from house to house carrying a “baby” who is a symbol of the birth of Jesus Christ. In every home they receive small presents from the home owners. One of most famous Christmas dishes in Nigeria during Christmas is the Nigerian style Christmas cake.
Other dishes include many kinds of meat (chicken, turkey, ram), stew, pounded yam, rice and fried rice.
In conclusion, over two-third of the world’s Christians now live in the global South – in the continent of Africa, Christianity has been developing the fastest. Nevertheless, the cultures of every African country are so rich in terms of traditions and customs, that it is worth visiting as many countries as possible to experience the diversity. Christmas is a perfect opportunity for doing that. What is great about Christmas in Africa is that this holiday is celebrated twice depending on the denomination of Christianity – either on 25 December or on 7 January.
Finally, here is how to say “Merry Christmas” in some of the regional languages in Africa:
In Akan (Ghana) Afishapa
In Zimbabwe Merry Kisimusi
In Afrikaans (South Africa) Geseënde Kersfees
In isiZulu (South Africa) Sinifisela Ukhisimusi Omuhle
In Seswati (Swaziland) Sinifisela Khisimusi Lomuhle
In Sotho (Lesthoto) Matswalo a Morena a Mabotse
In Swahili (Tanzania, Kenya)Kuwa na Krismasi njema
In Amharic (Ethiopia) Melkam Yelidet Beaal
In Egyptian (Egypt) Colo sana wintom tiebeen
In Yoruba (Nigeria) E ku odun, e hu iye’ dun!
Merry Christmas and happy holiday!