There are more than 350 million Christians who celebrate Christmas in Africa. Many western Christmas traditions are now part of African Christmas culture, including buying trees, singing Christmas carols and children waiting for Christmas presents from Father Christmas. If you are looking for an authentic African Christmas experience, here’s a list of the top five African Christmas traditions that are distinctively African.
Durban, South Africa
In South Africa the sunny weather draws many people to the outdoors. Naturally this would lead to the kingdom of the Zulu’s KwaZulu Natal (KZN). Families go for braai’s as well as picnics outdoors at various parks and zoos including the Natal zoological gardens. Many people however prefer to spend Christmas on the beach.
The beaches are also a big draw card for tourists. One of the busiest areas is Ballito. It’s said that in Ballito there is a beach for every occasion. The KZN Christmas Markey Festival continues to draw in crowds; organisers have promised that this year’s event will be the biggest with different vendors selling Christmas themed merchandise.
Banjul, The Gambia
It isn’t Christmas in The Gambia until the fanals have been lit. Lanterns made of bamboo and papers are shaped into boats. Then there’s a light placed inside the boats, it’s lit and circulated on wheels from house to house collecting donations for a large Christmas party.
When the fanals move from house to house they are followed by large singing groups. The festival started during colonial times and has evolved with the country. Later in the evening a masquerade party is held with lots of food and music for residents to enjoy.
Freetown, Sierra Leone
Christmas Eve is marked with a huge party in Sierra Leone. In the capital, Freetown, police bands and other musicians play Christmas carols in the streets. Children and other anyone else who wants to take part are allowed to dance and sing on the streets.
Sierra Leone was one of the West African countries hardest hit by the Ebola outbreak in 2013. Christmas around rural parts of the country had to be restricted due to the spread. Now that it’s been declared Ebola free Christmas can once again be a more social event.
Christmas in Ghana involves many celebrations, including honouring widwives. This is done based on a local legend about Anna; she helped delivery baby Jesus and protect him from the Judean king. Since Christmas comes at the end of the cocoa harvest, farmers who are happy with the crop made celebrate with big parties.
In some parts of the country, children march up and down the streets shouting “Christ is coming, Christ is coming! He is near” on Christmas day.
In Liberia, both children and the adults go from house to house singing Christmas carols. When they are singing they are usually dressed as angels because they are meant to represent the angels outside of Bethlehem. This takes place before lunch and after a big church mass.
There is no Santa Claus in Liberia but rather “old man beggar”. He dresses in rag like costumes and begs for gifts. People in Liberia also don’t say Merry Christmas but rather “my Christmas is on you” or “my Christmas is in your blood.” This is done to ensure that people give and share during the festive season.