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6 Unique Christmas Traditions That Can Only Be Found In African Countries
Have you ever wondered about the Christmas traditions in Africa?
Perhaps it wouldn’t surprise you that Christmas there — just like Christmas here — is festive and colorful. But it’s also a time of year to look back on good tidings and blessings, and to be grateful for all the good that’s already come, and is to come.
And, perhaps it’s also not surprising that things in African countries, in general, aren’t that different from things elsewhere…but, of course, African traditions have their own unique flair.
“While many Christmas traditions of Southern Africa were instilled by the British during the colonial era, Christmas celebrations in the Northern Africa region are very unique from country to country,” reports Volunteer Encounter, a company that specializes in pairing eager volunteers with opportunities across the world. “Although for many of the African countries Christmas comes during the summer months, accompanied by lots of sunshine and colorful flowers in full bloom, the spirit of Christmas on this continent remains the same. All African countries share the global tradition of families getting together.”
The gifts, the food, the caroling — and more — are all a part of African Christmas traditions. Let’s take a look at what you might expect celebrating the holiday there.
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What is an African Christmas without good food? In South Africa, treat yourself to a braai, or travel to Kenya for a nyama choma (which is grilled meat and vegetable stew). Nigeria’s Jollof rice is world-famous, but Ghana’s got its own recipe too.
Old Man Bayka
It goes without saying that not everyone believes in Santa Claus. But whether you call the bearer of good gifts & tidings “Father Christmas” or “St. Nick” or even “Santa Claus,” your name for Santa is nothing compared to the Liberian tradition of Old Man Bayka (Old Man Beggar).
Author Daniel Meier described his experience with Old Man Beggar when he went to Liberia as such:
“Instead of our familiar “Merry Christmas!” he cries out “My Christmas on you!” or “My Christmas is in your blood!” It is to say: “Give me something nice for Christmas!” They will be singing a famous festive Liberian begging song, “Merry Christmas, We’re At Your Door”. At this point, Old Man Beggar and his entourage ARE at your door, beating drums and singing loudly. They will stay and sing louder and louder until you give them something.”
Caroling is just as popular in Africa as it is here in the United States, but the purpose for caroling varies from country to country.
In Malawi, caroling is often done in exchange for small cash donations. In Zambia, caroling is done while on the way to the local nativity play. And in the Congo, caroling is done before food is placed on the community table.
Like elsewhere, it’s common for Christmas tree decorations to pop up throughout Africa. But unlike the United States — which uses evergreen trees, either real or artificial, as their Christmas trees — African Christmas trees vary.
Everything from mango to palm trees qualify, and don’t be surprised to see decorations like fake snow and bells, too.
The most popular gift for Christmas throughout Africa is new clothes. But other things — such as livestock, money, and food — are also common throughout the continent.
The Actual Day Itself
#Africans, let’s rejoice with the liberation of Africa’s Jerusalem and let’s meet in #Lalibela for #Ethiopians Christmas which is #Africans Christmas! https://t.co/R9jMVRyHgn pic.twitter.com/AM7SIdh3Se
— Chepkirui Basilio🇰🇪🇸🇴🇺🇬🇪🇷🇪🇹 (@KeChepkirui) December 11, 2021
Without getting too deep in the weeds about the origins of Christmas and what day Jesus was actually born, and if he even existed, suffice it to say that different African countries celebrate Christmas on different days.
If you live in Ethiopia or Egypt, you’re most likely a Coptic (Orthodox) Christian, which means that you celebrate Christmas on January 7th instead of December 25th. (Coptic Christians follow the older Julian calendar instead of the Gregorian calendar)