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Christmas in Africa: Traditions You Didn’t Know About

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Christmas on the African continent is festive, colorful and loud! Everyone counts down to the end of the year, when all their pent-up party mood is released. This is unarguably the most popular holiday in all of Africa, and Christians – who are the originators of Christmas – are not the only ones to celebrate the birth of the Christ. It is not unusual to see a Muslim vendor selling Santa hats or decorative Christmas lights, or people who aren’t particularly religious wishing their neighbors a very merry Christmas on top of their voices. It is indeed a season to be jolly!

Africa is known to party big, and Christmas is just the perfect time to get out enjoy the company of your family and friends, preferably over bottles of cold drinks and steaming platters of yummy meals.

This is how you know it is Christmas in Africa:

Everyone Goes Back Home

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If you want to feel the intensity of rural-urban migration, you should visit an African city at Christmastime. Cities become empty at Christmas, when city-dwellers flock back home to the countryside. What’s the point of hustling so hard in the city if you don’t get to buy a few gifts, travel home to your village, enjoy spending time with your family and visit old friends?

In Nigeria, most city dwellers build beautiful houses in their villages just so they can receive their kin whenever they go home for Christmas. In cities like Lagos, Accra, Nairobi, etc., traffic is usually reduced to a trickle at this time of the year because people are usually back home celebrating.

What’s Christmas Without New Clothes?

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Most Africans will tell you how their parents bought them new clothes in September, to be worn at Christmas. This is because clothing items are usually very expensive around Christmas. Sellers will hike prices because they are sure people will still buy, which is a simple matter of demand and supply. Adults are usually not left out of this fun, as special clothes are bought and set aside to be worn on Christmas day. Tailors, pinned under the high number of orders, will usually stop taking orders around November. It is considered a travesty to disappoint a customer by not delivering their Christmas clothes on time.

Church Service on Christmas Morning

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Most Christians go to church on Christmas morning. In Nigeria, you’ll be hard pressed to find people not wearing their brand-new Christmas attires to church. Most people prefer to spend the morning in church, listening to the same Christmas message they’ve heard a million times over. This repetition does not make church service any less fun. Praise and worship sessions are boisterous because there is no better way to herald the birth of a king. Children dazzle the congregation with Nativity plays. Ministers implore on their congregation to show the same love and selflessness Christ had shown by coming down to be born of a woman.

Food Tastes Better at Christmas

Nigerian Food plate

Most Africans will agree that Christmas adds a special flavor to food, even if you ate the same thing just the night before. In Nigeria, Christmas rice is king! Rice is usually served with delicious tomato stew, with the protein of choice being fried chicken. In the rural areas, people are known to rear special goats or chickens to be served as Christmas meat. Ghanaians, when not serving their popular ‘Ghana Jollof’, will eat porridge and delicious soups served with fufu. In South Africa, sweets are an active part of Christmas.

You are expected to eat until you can no longer take it.

There is Love in Sharing

You thought people just sat around and ate with only their family members, right? Definitely not so! People who celebrate Christmas ensure that others are carried along in the feasting. Non-Christian neighbors are usually invited to the Christmas lunch or dinner table. It is a season of love after all!

Food is not the only thing people share. Christmas gifts are popular, and the most common gift items include money, clothes, electronic devices, food items, livestock, etc.

Christmas is a Time for Amazing Cultural Displays

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Africa is such a colorful continent, and there is no better time to experience the diverse cultures than at Christmastime. Expect seasonal cultural dances and displays in parts on Nigeria and Kenya. In South Africa, beautiful cultural dancers and singers will take your breath away. You might even get to see African masquerades, especially those who only come out during festive seasons like Easter, Christmas and New Year. You can partake in masquerade parties in Sierra Leonne and Gambia, so don’t forget to take your camera along for some insta-worthy snaps.

Not Everyone Believes in Santa Claus

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This is not a case of growing up and realizing that Santa, and your whole childhood, had been a lie. Some countries in Africa don’t believe in a fat guy in a red costume, riding on his sleigh and crawling up openings in your house to leave you presents. In Liberia, Santa is replaced by Old Man Bayka, who is also known to be a devil. Old Man Bayka is not here to give out the things you’ve wanted for the past year, he is all about begging you for presents instead. In Nigeria, Santa is substituted for Father Christmas.

Christmas is…Many Things

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Africans will tell you that Christmas is not a stand-alone holiday. People eagerly include as many days in the fun as possible. In Ethiopia, the holiday is not actually celebrated on December 25 as it is done all over the world. The Julian calendar pushes the holiday all the way to January 7. The fun might be postponed, but it still fun nonetheless. In Ghana, the festivities start early around December 1, when shops and homes are decorated with Christmas trees and blinking lights. There is also double celebration as Christmas falls on the end of the cocoa harvest.

When it comes to Christmas celebration, Africa goes big. The festivities are always memorable and the fun will be remembered for years to come.