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Christmas Traditions in Africa

Some Christmas traditions from Africa that you may or may not know about.

Christmas Traditions in Africa

Church Services and Carols - The history of Christianity in Africa dates back to the 1st Century AD. What every missionary has found since that time is that Africans are very spiritual people. (Besides Christianity, the other main religions are Islam and indigenous beliefs). Going to church is generally the main focus of Christmas celebrations in Africa. Nativity scenes are played out, carols are sung and in some cases dances are performed.


Christmas Presents - Those who can afford it will generally give gifts at Christmas but the holiday is not nearly as commercial as it is in Europe or the Americas. The emphasis is more on the religious aspect of celebrating the birth of Jesus and singing in church, than it is on gift giving. The most common thing bought at Christmas is a new set of clothes to be worn to the church service. Many Africans are too poor to be able to afford presents for their kids and there aren't too many toy stores in rural Africa anyway. If gifts are exchanged in poorer communities they usually come in the form of school books, soap, cloth, candles and other practical goods.
Very touchingly, in most parts of Africa, people collect birthday presents for Jesus Christ (for His birthday) and take them to the church service. They don't buy them, they don't visit shops, but they collect branches, stones, leafs or stuff like that to bring their presents to the born Jesus Christ. The most important part of their church service is the love offering as gift in honour of Jesus. Everyone enthusiastically goes forward to lay down their gift near the communion table.

Christmas Dinner - As in most Christian cultures, celebrating Christmas dinner with friends and family tops the list after attending church. In most countries Christmas is a public holiday and people take the opportunity to visit friends and family. African Christmas foods are Goat, beef, chicken, bread, jam, tea, rice, sukuma wiki (Kale), chapattis (similar to Nan bread), ugali (corn meal), fufu (a thick paste usually made by boiling starchy root vegetables and, okra soup.
In South Africa the sun is hot and the beaches are full of families enjoying braais (bbq's) or traditional Christmas dinners with paper hats, mince pies, turkey and plum pudding (a vestige of the British colonial legacy). In East Africa, Christmas feasts are with roasted goats. In Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda, for example, the goat meat is eaten hot from the charcoal grill and as a rule, in just one sitting. The Kikuyu and Maasai tribes have a rule that certain parts of goat are for boys and certain for girls. Fufu is eaten in Ghana along with Lady's Finger soup or okra soup. In Liberia, people enjoy eating rice, beef and biscuits. People of Zimbabwe eat lots of bread, jam and tea along with their goat meat. Families with less privilege eat chicken with chapattis, ugali, sukuma wiki and rice.
Unfortunately, the whole world knows there are many Africans who are not so lucky to eat the above mentioned Christmas foods. There are lots of children in orphanages depending on donations from other people. Christmas food is by many seen as a Christmas present.

Christmas Decorations - Decorating shop fronts, mango trees, churches and homes is common throughout African Christian communities. You may see fake snow decorating store fronts in Nairobi, palm trees laden with candles in Ghana, thorn trees in Kenya and Tanzania or oil palms loaded with bells in Liberia.

Why not come and spend Christmas with us next year?

“When you travel, remember that a foreign country is not designed to make you comfortable. It is designed to make its own people comfortable.” - Clifton Fadiman