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African Christmas Family Traditions

Updated on December 4, 2012

"African Christianity is not just an exotic, curious phenomenon in an obscure part of the world, but that African Christianity might be the shape of things to come."

Lamin Sanneh (D. Willis James Professor of Missions and World Christianity and Professor of History at Yale Divinity School)

It is believed that christianity reached the African surface in the middle of the 1st century AD. Christianity in Africa is not merely the product of European missionary work; there is evidence that the first christian community was founded prior to the European influence. There were 9 million christians in Africa in 1900. The number raised to 380 million in 2000, and it is estimated that by 2025 christian population in Africa will increase up to 633 million.

Different countries in Africa celebrate Christmas in different ways. Some Christmas traditions ‘’imported’’ from Europe may be combined with the African pagan religious elements. For example, the Mmo African dance (masquearade or spirit representing the spirit of ancestors) is part of Christmas celebrations although it’s not actually a christian ritual. Ghana is the second biggest cocoa producer in the world and December is the month of the cocoa harvest (cocoa beans are the basis for chocolate). At Christmas time, everybody comes back to their villages as the local kings celebrate their achievements with masquerades. Churches and homes are decorated in the first week of Advent, church service is held on the Christmas morning, and children put up a nativity play or another scene from the life of Jesus Christ.

Spirituality is of great significance for African society and it is shown in the way people live and celebrate life in general. Rich or poor, African people celebrate and enjoy the moment. The African Christmas spirit more or less reflects the world’s Christmas tradition in which family and friends come together to spend time together, enjoy eating and drinking (if possible), and most important, to rejoice in the reality of having each other. In some parts of Africa, groups of young children dressed in skirts made of leaves go door to door to perform dances and Christmas songs using home made instruments. They may recieve a small gift of money in return. The people of Congo walk around in the village in groups of carolers singing Christmas carols and people in Liberia are woken up on Christmas morning to religious songs or carols. They use an oil palm tree as a Christmas tree and decorate it with bells. 

Christmas feast in the developed world
Christmas feast in the developed world | Source
Waiting in line for food
Waiting in line for food
Lunch in an orphanage in Africa
Lunch in an orphanage in Africa

African Christmas foods

Goat, beef, chicken, bread, jam, tea, rice, sukuma wiki, chapattis, ugali, fufu, okra soup

In East Africa, Christmas feasts are with roasted goats. In Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda, for example,  the goat meat is eaten hot from the charcoal grill and as a rule, in just one sitting. The Kikuyu and Masai tribes have a rule that certain parts of goat are for boys and certain for girls. Fufu  is a thick paste usually made by boiling starchy root vegetables in water and pounding with a mortar or pestle. It is eaten in Ghana along with Lady's Finger soup or okra soup. In Liberia, people enjoy eating rice, beef and biscuits. People of Zimbabwe eat lots of bread, jam and tea along with their goat meat.

Families with less privilege eat chicken with chapattis, ugali, sukuma wiki and rice.

Unfortunately, the whole world knows there are many Africans who are not so lucky to eat the above mentioned Christmas foods. There are lots of children in orphanages depending on donations from other people. Christmas food is by many seen as a Christmas present.

A nice Christmas family tradition in the developed world would be to remeber those who starve, who are cold and alone, and share a pray for them. Parents should tell the true story of Christmas in Africa to their children to help them appreciate what they have and to motivate them to think of those in need. Man doesn’t have to go to Africa to find people in need, they may be very close by, even in our own neighbourhood.

Christmas presents in Africa

Christmas presents in Africa are something quite opposite of the presents bought and distributed around the developed world. If gifts are exchanged in poorer communities, they are cloth, soap, sweets, pencils, candles and school books. The most common Christmas present is a ‘’new’’ set of clothes, and sometimes shoes, to be worn to the church service. Of course, the clothes are mostly imported worn clothing from the secondhand market.

Very touching, in most parts of Africa, people collect birthday presents for Jesus Christ (after all, it is His birthday) and take them to the church service. They don’t buy them, they don’t visit shops, but they collect branches, stones, leafs or stuff like that to bring their presents to the born Jesus Christ. The most important part of their church service is the love offering as gift in honor of Jesus. Everyone enthusiastically goes forward to lay down their gift near the Communion table.

A nice Christmas family tradition in the developed world would be to motivate our children to choose one toy among their many toys to be given away as a present to children who haven’t got any. If something like that would be done in the whole neighbourhood or on a community level, toys could be sent far away to Africa, or closer, to an institution in our own country. Each year, someone else from the neighbourhood could host a small party or gathering for collecting the toys. School or nursery teachers could also start this tradition and make along a short thematic play with children.

It is in giving one receives.

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      pastor lanka ra 5 years ago

      Dear friends,

      Kindly sponsor gifts to the poor Christians for the coming Christmas, Dec 25th ,2012.

      Give the poor the gift of life

      • Visit our at free of cost in which you can have a glance on the social services.

      • We feed the poor orphans and the old aged people with the little what we have but most of them starve for food still and I am helpless so I pray to God to bless these people with sufficient food.

      • Hence, a humble request to all of you to donate a dollar for each orphan so that they can have their meal for a day.

      • We are running a welfare organization for poor people. Our projects are as follows

      • *Free food supply *Rice and wheat distribution * Cloth distribution to poor people * Educational support programmes* Free medical camp and medicine distribution * Free note books and text books distribution * S.C & Tribal community development program. Visit our website

      Thank you.

      Kindly send your favorable donations

      State Bank of India (SBI) Contact:

      Branch code : 0907 SNEHASAHA ORPHANAGE

      Branch Pin Code IFSC:SBIN0000907 Door Num:26 – 1- 43,

      Bank Account No : 11046483437 Near R.T.C complex,

      M I C R Code : 533002402 Ramchandrapuram

      For the credit of Ravi Kanth Lanka East Godavari District,

      Phone: +91 – 9391146445 PIN: 533255

      Andhra Pradesh

      South India

    • profile image

      bella 6 years ago


    • vox vocis profile image

      Jasmine 6 years ago

      @Princessa: It's amazing how "little" things can be so big in the hands of some people while big things are little in the hands of other people. Also, Christmas presents in Africa and South America have more value even if they cost less than Christmas presents in more developed countries. It's a pity that there isn't any balance in the world, but that's how it has been since the very beginning :(

      Thanks for commenting!

    • Princessa profile image

      Wendy Iturrizaga 6 years ago from France

      Christmas presents in Africa remind me of presents in the poor areas in South America where items such as shampoo, soaps and foods are used as presents for Christmas and birthdays.

    • vox vocis profile image

      Jasmine 7 years ago

      Absolutely true Chin Chin. Giving is better than receiving. There are more offsprings when giving and making others happy!

    • Chin chin profile image

      Chin chin 7 years ago from Philippines

      It's nice to know a little something about how people celebrate Christmas in Africa. I like what you said about sharing with those who have less specially this Christmas. Isn't it that giving is one of the strong messages of Christmas?

    • bettybarnesb profile image

      bettybarnesb 7 years ago from Bartlett, TN

      Enjoyed your article

    • oceansnsunsets profile image

      Paula 7 years ago from The Midwest, USA

      Wow, what a great hub with great insights. It is so interesting to hear about the history of Christianity in Africa. How great to encourage all to remember and do something for those that are less fortunate than ourselves both far and near.

    • Wendy Krick profile image

      Wendy Krick 7 years ago from Maryland

      Great to read and learn about Christmas in Africa. I would love to try the okra soup.