My daughter was recently asked to write a paper on the celebration of this holiday in Africa for presentation to her 4th grade class. Being one of the few African’s in the class, the teacher thought it would be a good idea to showcase how this holiday is celebrated across the globe. As I help her with her report, I am reminded of the Christmas celebrations I had as a child. Christmas in Africa is truly a grand affair. It is the time most people take their yearly vacations or in the case of entrepreneurs, close shop. Unlike America where the big holiday for food is Thanksgiving, Christmas is a time of the year when African home cooks showcase their skill and everyone has come prepared to eat. The holiday starts about one week prior to Christmas. Most people travel back to their family homes in the country (or villages), leaving most of the cities a ghost town. In the villages, there is a carnival-like atmosphere. People get to reconnect with long lost relatives from all around the world. Food and drinks are in abundance and the entertainment is top notch. Some cultures have local Masquerades that dance in the town square and move around from home to home entertaining. For children, this is an especially magical time, as they are allowed to play to their hearts desire (no curfew!)
Christmas eve is not complete without the midnight vigil at the local church which is usually standing room only. Children in the choir sing Christmas carols and act out plays. After service, there is more fanfare as many people sit outside their compounds entertaining one and all with food and drinks. Christmas food is not complete without some rice and meat. The meats served is typically freshly slaughtered cow,goat or fowl. Meats are prepared in numerous ways, from grilling with an array of freshly prepared spices to stewed in heavily seasoned sauces. Drinks served range from everyday soft drinks to local brews like freshly tapped Palm wine which along with it extremely sweet taste makes for a heady brew.
Christmas day is usually the day most kids get a new outfit they get to wear and show-off. This is the height of gift giving as most families cannot afford to give more. For more affluent families there might be a few more gifts, but traditionally Christmas in Africa is not about the gifts but about spending time together with family and loved ones. The carnival continues through New Year after which most people go back to their daily grind in the city with a promise to see each other by the year’s end.