What are the Top Christmas Traditions in Africa?

December 17, 2020

What are the Top Christmas Traditions in Africa?

When you think of Africa, it's easy to dream up images of beautiful jungles, hot deserts, scattered villages, and exotic animals. Those pictures are hardly relatable to what you see in America. And yet, there is still one significant thing that brings the two places together: Christmas. 

While most people rarely associate Christmas with Africa, this joyous holiday is an exciting time of the year for many people who call the continent home. There are various Christmas traditions in Africa, and some African countries consider Christmas a national holiday, even if the primary religion is Islam. 

In Africa, Christmas is a vibrant celebration that people love and enjoy with family and friends. And while it's easy to disassociate this holiday with Africa, Christmas has been a special day for Africans for a very long time. 

The History of Christmas in Africa

Christmas is a significant holiday in Africa for a reason. This holiday is firmly rooted in the continent's unique Christian background.  

Scholars believe that Christianity came to North Africa in the 1st century AD without any European influence. According to findings from the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Ethiopians, later on, adopted the religion in the fourth century. However, what's also interesting is that the Bible mentions Africa by explaining the conversion of an Ethiopian eunuch during the formation of the early church. 

Christianity became a dominant religion early on in Africa alongside Islam, which was also widely practiced. The two beliefs are still the most prominent ones in Africa today. However, Christianity is so significant in Africa that the continent hosts the largest number of Christians than any other place in the world. 

A survey from the Center for the Study of Global Christianity found that 631 million Christians live in Africa. The highest percentage of Christians in Africa are located in Zambia, with 95% of people practicing Christianity. According to the research, the other major centers of Christianity are Seychelles and Rwanda. 

With the religion holding such prevalence in Africa, Christmas is a holiday that many Africans eagerly celebrate. And similar to most places, Christmas traditions in Africa help commemorate the birth of Jesus Christ. 

Common Christmas Traditions in Africa

While the holiday customs in Africa are unique, there are some that you may find familiar. Specifically, there are four Christmas traditions in Africa that you and your loved ones may also do during this time of year. 

  1. Going to church

With Christianity playing such a significant role in Africa, it's essential to the people that the church gets involved in the holiday. Many Africans go to church to celebrate Christmas. And while the services may have slight differences across congregations, they all tend to focus on a few key things: Christmas carols, dance performances, and a nativity play.

  1. Giving gifts to loved ones 

Gift-giving is a worldwide tradition, and Africa is no exception. For Christmas, Africans love to gather around to give each other gifts. And even though luxury items aren't usually the gifts they provide, their presents still put a smile on each other's faces. 

Most Africans like to give each other affordable presents or provide services as their Christmas gifts to loved ones. However, if someone has a little extra spending money, it's not uncommon to see that person donate items to orphanages, churches, or impoverished communities.   

  1. Having a Christmas dinner

As in many places, families love to gather around for a good Christmas dinner. In Africa, this is a tradition that you see people take very seriously. Because Christmas is a public holiday, relatives and loved ones are expected to come to dinner, so many people are typically present. 

  1. Decorating the tree

Even if there's no snow, that doesn't stop people in Africa from decorating a Christmas tree to get in the holiday spirit. It's common to see people use handmade decorations, bells, and lanterns to decorate their Christmas tree. And if some Africans want to see a little snow, they usually find fake snow at a store to put on their tree. 

Christmas Traditions by Country 

While some Christmas traditions in Africa are similar to those you see worldwide, certain African countries have their own unique holiday customs. The list of Christmas traditions by country is long, but there are five examples that can provide more insight into what Christmas is like in Africa. 

  1. Christmas traditions in Eswatini

In the little known Kingdom of Eswatini, the Christmas traditions won't focus on material things since many of the people are experiencing poverty. However, that doesn't mean Christmas isn't a special day for Swazis. 

In Eswatini, people start their holiday at church to worship, sing, and celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ. And afterward, they love to have a good meal with one another, where they can sit, laugh, and spend quality time together.  

  1. Christmas traditions in South Africa

The traditions in South Africa are very people-focused. During Christmas, people visit loved ones. And sometimes, families and friends go to the countryside to enjoy the nice weather. 

However, if people decide to stay in the city for Christmas, they'll typically participate in a South African barbeque called "braai." For these dinners, South Africans go to their verandas and gardens to prepare, organize, and eat.  

  1. Christmas traditions in Tanzania 

One of the main holiday traditions in Tanzania is the Christmas dinner. In this country, people celebrate Christmas by purchasing a goat or cow in January. Then, they feed it really well so that it's ready for dinner, which happens on Christmas Eve. 

  1. Christmas traditions in Kenya 

In Kenya, Christmas is considered one of the biggest holidays of the year. Instead of small gatherings, it's a tradition for hundreds of people to come together to celebrate Christmas. 

These gatherings include a Christmas dinner that comes with goat or cow meat, corn cake or chapati, and meat stew with vegetables and potatoes. The gatherings also include singing and dancing around a fire with family and other loved ones.  

  1. Christmas traditions in Nigeria 

Christmas day in Nigeria is long and fun-filled. Many Nigerians start their celebration by going to church to worship. Then, afterward, they tend to have a Christmas dinner. Many of the dishes include goat, chicken, turkey, sheep, vegetable salad, skewed beef, and jollof rice. 

However, another popular Christmas tradition in Nigeria centers around community service. For Christmas, the churches in Nigeria like to organize events for people to visit homeless shelters, orphanages, and struggling families. During these visits, the church members provide Christmas gifts, including drinks, food, presents, and a performance from the choir. 

The importance of Christmas in Africa

Home to the largest number of Christians, Africa is a place where you'll find many people celebrating Christmas. The birth of Jesus is a moment in history that many Africans take seriously, which is why they place such importance on the public holiday. 

Christmas is a time of year where people in Africa worship, gather, sing, dance, give, and serve others. And as Christianity proceeds to grow in Africa, the holiday and its traditions will continue to play a significant role in various African countries and kingdoms.

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