From street parties to Christmas Carol service… food and fun always highlight Christmas celebration across the world. With over 350 million Christians living in Africa, it is no surprise that the continent is not left out of the festivities… and it’s not just about religion because even in some of Africa’s predominately Muslim countries, Christmas is celebrated too. For example, in Senegal, a predominantly Muslim nation, some mosques are often decorated with Christmas lights during Chrismas.
Of course, Christmas in Africa has a spiritual meaning and it’s not as commercialized as in the developed countries of Europe or Northern America – this probably explains why in every country there are so many interesting local traditions and cultural infusion into the Christmas festival.
As with 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) and hang out. 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.
North Africa which is a predominately Muslim region of the continent is not left out of Christmas. Though Christmas is celebrated mostly in the New Year in that region, this has nothing to do with the penetration of Christianity in the region, rather, doctrinal appreciation of Christmas in the Christian denomination that exists in the region informed the date. In Egypt for instance, there are Egyptian Orthodox Christians and Coptic Christians. Both groups celebrate Christmas on the 7th of January. Usually, on this date, people go to the 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 a 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 7th of 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 flatbread 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. Churches typically have 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.
Ghana’s Year of Return activities is adding colours to the Christmas festivities with various entertainment activities lined up to welcome Africans in the diaspora who return home to commemorate the launch slave trade on the African coast several centuries ago.
One of the most widespread Christmas traditions in Nigeria is the decorating of premises with Christmas trees and lightening as symbols of peace and joy. The season is also characterized by parties, the most famous being the Calabar festival. It is a popular Christmas tradition in Nigeria to share gifts with loved ones, and to share meals with one’s neighbours. One of the most famous Christmas dishes in Nigeria is the Jolof Rice. People also make Christmas cake.
Other dishes include many kinds of meat (chicken, turkey, ram), stew, pounded yam, rice and fried rice.
In conclusion, the fusion of Christman and Christian tradition with various African culture makes Christmas in Africa joyous. The community manner in which Christmas is celebrated means visitors and locals alike are warmly welcome into the thrill. If you’ve ever thought of visiting an African community, Christmas might well be the perfect opportunity to do so. What is more interesting 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, so if you missed the first, you definitely have another chance.
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!