12. Christmas in African Nations

Christmas celebrations in African nations is characterized by
much outdoor activity because the season often occurs during a time
when the weather is pleasant. Using palm trees and participating in
processions are also characteristic features of activities related to
Christmas in many parts of Africa.
In South Africa, activities that occur outside during Christmas
include the usual caroling, but also the unusual ones of swimming and
camping. The beach and mountains play an important role during
Christmas in South Africa because the season occurs during the hottest
time of the year – summer.
Given the pleasant nature of the weather during Christmas,
families also take advantage of it by often going sightseeing in the
countryside on a relaxing drive in the late evening of Christmas Day. A
rich and sumptuous menu that includes a suckling pig or roast beef,
turkey, mince pies, yellow rice, vegetables and puddings usually makes
up the traditional South African Christmas dinner.
To create a festive environment, decorated pine branches and fir,
sparkling cotton wool and tinsel are used in homes and businesses as
A similar decorative pattern of using evergreen, palm trees and
lighted candles are also seen in countries such as Ghana and Liberia.
While these are used in homes and businesses, they are also often
carried in processions and during caroling activities.
While South Africans gather at the beach during Christmas time to
enjoy the warm summer waters, people in other African nations often
gather outside at in town squares and in the streets to march, sing and
enjoy an overall feeling of merriment.
Despite the seemingly general similarity in activities, however,
countries have their own individual style that makes Christmas
celebrations unique.
Of all the celebrations in African nations, Christmas activities
in Ethiopia stand out for their difference in when they are celebrated
and how it is done. One of the features that make Ethiopian Christmas
different is that the main celebratory event occurs on Jan. 7, around
the time known as the Epiphany or Three Kings Day in North and South
Given the general modest economic financial situations of a
significant number of the population in many African countries,
Christmas celebrations also tend to occur over a shorter period of
time, compared to activities in more wealthier countries.
Another difference in celebrations of Christmas in Ethiopia is
the participation of various people who take part in a pilgrimage and
converge on the capital city during Christmas Eve. These wanderers fill
the night air with a din of praying and chanting and create a
multicolor spectacle when they gather on Christmas morning to have a
religious service.
But retaining a similarity with other African nations, Ethiopians
enjoy a Christmas dinner that includes a meat stew. Stews, rice, root
vegetables such as yams, breads and soups often are part of the menu of
traditional Christmas day dinners in African nations.
Christmas dinners are likely enjoyed by families outside, where
everyone shares the meal while sitting in a circular pattern outside
under the shade of a sprawling tree, instead of sitting in a formal
setting at a table.
As is the practice in every household during Christmas, Africans
also exchange gifts. Popular items that are exchanged as Christmas
gifts include cotton cloth, soaps, sweets, pencils and books, all very
practical items that can be readily used. Again, this may be related to
the modest financial resources of up to half the population in many
African countries, as well as to cultural norms. Individuals aren’t
able to afford extravagant gifts but they still want to surprise
children, family and friends at Christmas with an unexpected gift. The
generally pervasive cultural norm of humility and modesty that exists
among traditional African peoples, also plays an important role in not
having overreaching extravagance at Christmas.