African Christmas tradition varies from country to country although there are few similarities.
With Christians accounting for about half of the continent’s population, Christmas is a big occasion in Africa, and they know how to celebrate.
Christmas in Africa is all about joyful music, bright outdoor feasts, and Christmas Street parades.
Christmas is a time for practically everyone in Africa to meet with friends and family, go to church, and enjoy a large feast – yet each country has its own distinct festive traditions.
Although many African countries celebrate Christmas during the summer months, with lots of sunshine and colorful flowers in full bloom, the spirit of Christmas on this continent remains the same.
Being in the festive season, here are a few unique African Christmas tradition to take note of.
1. Christmas carols and church services
Church services are the most important Christmas ritual in most African countries. The Yuletide season is centered on celebrating Jesus’ birth, and church services are held on both Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.
There are also nativity displays, dramas, dancing performances, communion tables, and caroling.
Locals in some places, like the Congo, offer a gift for their church’s Communion table. Their church also hosts large musical events, including at least five choirs and a lengthy nativity play.
In Malawi, youngsters go door-to-door singing Christmas carols and playing traditional instruments in exchange for tiny financial donations. In Zambia, churches put up nativity plays and citizens sing beautiful carols in the streets.
In various nations around the world, the end of Midnight Mass signifies the time to retire to bed in order to await Santa.
However, in many African countries, this signifies that the party is only getting begun! In places such as The Gambia, a joyful parade follows the Christmas Eve church service.
Locals perform dances with fanals, which are big lanterns fashioned of bamboo and paper in the shape of houses or boats.
The fanals are lit from the inside with candles and moved from house to house to collect donations. Towns in both The Gambia and Sierra Leone celebrate with colorful masquerade festivities.
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2. Christmas feasts
Feast makes the most part of Christmas. In fact, it is one African Christmas tradition that isn’t overlooked. Just like other parts of the world.
Nyama choma, otherwise known as grilled meat is mostly eaten on Christmas day. South Africans in their famous outdoor braais or special Christmas barbecues.
People in South Africa visit family and friends on Christmas Day, and many opt to go to the countryside to enjoy the summer sun.
Those who live in cities prefer to eat their meals on their verandas or in their gardens or to host a “braai” (South African barbeque).
Because Boxing Day remains a public holiday in South Africa, people continue to celebrate with festive dinners, gifts, and picnics outside.
Tanzanians enjoy roasting a cow or goat to spread throughout the village and washing it down with home-brewed beer, but Liberians enjoy beef and rice for their Christmas feast.
Jollof rice, tomato stew, and fried chicken or goat are the highlights of the festivities in Nigeria, while Ghanaians serve their famed Jollof rice, fufu, and okra soup.
3. Exchange of gifts
Regardless of whether you think that Santa exists or not, gifting someone presents isn’t a common African Christmas custom.
People exchange gifts, but it is also customary to contribute clothing, books, toys, etc to churches and orphanages.
New clothes are a common present across Africa. Whether you buy them in stores or have them tailored, practically everyone shows up to church on Christmas Day wearing their new attire.
Locals also buy their new clothes months in advance because stores are known for raising prices in December because they know people would come to buy their new Christmas attire.
4. Christmas decorations that are unique
It is customary in many African countries to hang Christmas lights and ornaments, as well as decorate trees.
However, African Christmas trees are not the same as your typical pine or fir tree. Throughout Africa, you’ll find everything from Cypress trees to mango and palm trees adorned with small ornaments like bells and candles, while big establishments and hotels frequently put up more expensive decorations like fake snow.
5. Christmas is not celebrated on the same day throughout Africa
While most African countries celebrate Christmas on December 25th, it is not the same everywhere. Coptic Christians in Egypt and Ethiopia, who follow the ancient Julian calendar, celebrate Christmas on January 7th.
The Yuletide celebrations in Ghana begin as soon as December begins, with stores, streets, and homes decked out in dazzling lights and ornaments. There’s also double the celebration in Ghana, as Christmas falls at the same time as the end of the cocoa harvest.
6. Some people do not believe in Santa Claus
Santa Claus is not necessarily an African Christmas custom. Some cultures just do not believe in the arrival of a red-suited jolly man on his sleigh bearing gifts for the children.
In Liberia, you’ll come across Old Man Bayka, the ‘devil’ who doesn’t offer gifts but instead roams the streets on Christmas Day begging for gifts.
Also, instead of saying “Merry Christmas” in Liberia, the natives say “My Christmas on you” which basically means “Please give me something pleasant for Christmas”.
Also, some Ethiopians and Egyptians do not believe in Santa Claus, while Santa is shown in Kenya riding a camel or a bike rather than a sleigh.