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African Joy for the Holidays: Festivities in The Motherland

Christmas is usually associated with European and North American cultures, with the exchange of gifts, winter wonderlands, carol singers, Christmas decorations and lights! However, there are many other countries where Christmas is celebrated differently but is just as extraordinary.

There are roughly 2.4 billion Christians around the world with over 650 million of them in Africa. This blog will focus on the festivities that take place in various African countries, including, the traditions, how they say Merry Christmas and of course, the food! So, without further ado, let’s go to the four corners of Africa and take a closer look at these traditions!

Christmas Handmade Decorations

Sierra Leone
I will first start in the West, to my home, the one and only, Salone! We dae ya! Sierra Leone is well known for its white sandy beaches which decorate the lining of The Freetown Peninsula and until recently was home to the famous Cotton Tree, a Kapok tree over 400 years old that was a symbol of freedom from the British slave trade.

Despite around only 20% of the population identifying as Christians, the country comes together on this joyous day to celebrate and spread Christmas cheer.

So, what are some of the traditions?
There would usually be a watch night church service on the night of Christmas Eve. This is similar to Christingles in the West and would usually finish at midnight. The young adults would go to parties or go clubbing after the church service to celebrate. If Christmas day falls on a Sunday "you bette mek sure sae you okay for go church nar morning!".


On Christmas day, the elders would stay at home while the younger family members go and visit older relatives and friends. They would be served various “cham cham” e.g pepper chicken, akara, fish ball, fried fish and ginger beer.

Sierra Leone Christmas.jpg

In the villages extravagant Masquerades e.g “huntin and geledeh”, would take place alongside festivals where there would be drummers, singers, and plenty of food.

What about the Christmas Cuisine?
Leading up to Christmas Eve they would carefully prepare in advance some of the food for Christmas day. This would include rice bread, cake and ginger beer and the stew for the jollof rice.

It is also common to have fry soup also known as stew, with gammon, salt beef and cabbage. Bittas or bitter leaf soup and fufu as well as kren kren (my personal favourite) and shakpa, would also be available during Christmas.

How do we share the Christmas joy and say Merry Christmas?
Happy Christmas oh! Happy Christmas me nor die oh, tell God tenkie for me life oh!

We’re now going to move North. To the land of ancient civilisation and the colossal Pyramids of Giza. Situated in Northeast Africa, with only 15% or less of its population identifying as Christians, in Egypt many of its population which do not identify as Christians celebrate Christmas as a secular holiday.

So, what are some of the traditions?
The festivities would usually start with a midnight service in church. They would then go home and Coptic Orthodox Christians would break their 43 day fast consisting of a vegan diet. However, Christmas day, is mostly celebrated on January 7th and not December 25th mostly due to the difference between the Julian and the Georgian calendar.

People come together in homes for parties and festivities. The decorations consist of colourful lamps and scenes from the nativity, as well as Christmas trees decorated with bright lights and colourful ornaments.

What about the Christmas Cuisine?
The Coptic Christmas cuisine would include Fattah which is a layered mix of rice, baldi bread, meat broth and fried garlic. Roasted lamb or chicken and a variety of vegetables would also be on the menu! Kahk (a sweet biscuit often stuffed with pistachios and honey) is usually taken as gifts to be eaten on Christmas day.

Egypt Christmas.jpg

How do they share the Christmas joy and say Merry Christmas?

Eid Milad Majid!


Now moving on to the land of vast tropical forests and exotic wildlife, Madagascar. Located on the South-East coast of Africa, Madagascar is the fourth largest island and the second largest island country. Due to the diverse population and various influences, like many other African countries, the Malagasy celebrations are a blend of traditional and Western practices.


So, what are some of the traditions?
The Christmas celebrations start with a Church service on Christmas Eve similar to the West, and families gather in large communities outside of the church. Children would perform songs and plays to celebrate the birth of Jesus.

Traditional Malagasy carols, known as “sambasambina,” are sung throughout the season. Festive dances and drumming accompany the sambasambina, creating a vibrant and joyous atmosphere.

Celebrations would usually take place in large groups of families and small gifts will be exchanged. Malagasy people would embellish their houses in an array of decorations including intricately woven palm leaves, poinsettia trees, tinsel and faux holly.

Madagascar Christmas.jpg

What about the Christmas Cuisine?
The meals would consist of chicken or pork with yellow rice followed by cakes or desserts which are sometimes made with lychees.

How do they share the Christmas joy and say Merry Christmas?
Arahaba tratry ny Noely!


South Africa
Situated between the Atlantic Ocean and the Indian Ocean, South Africa is well known for its savannas, it’s wonderful wildlife and some of the earliest evidence of human evolution.

Unlike our frosty and bitter cold winter, the Christmas’ are hot and sunny with beautiful flowers in full bloom.

South Africa Christmas.jpg

What about the Christmas Cuisine?
The Christmas meal is either turkey, duck, roast beef or a suckling pig with yellow rice & raisins and vegetables. This is followed by the traditional South African desert called Malva Pudding or Lekker pudding, a rich and dense pudding with a caramelised texture, often served with custard or ice cream.


How do they share the Christmas joy and say Merry Christmas?
In Zulu it's 'UKhisimusi omuhle', in Sesotho it's 'Le be le keresemese e monate' and in Xhosa it's 'Krismesi emnandi'.


If you could choose an African country to experience Christmas in, which one would it be?

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