There are around 350 million Christians in Africa who celebrate Christmas. Many celebrate the same traditions as Western cultures, such as singing carols and giving gifts. But the little differences and details in how Africans celebrate Christmas are really interesting. Here are 10 things you didn’t know about Christmas in Africa that you may want to incorporate into your holiday celebrations.
Coptic Christians of Egypt and Ethiopia celebrate Christmas on what is to most of the world Jan. 7. Coptic Christians observe the Julian Calendar, which came before the Gregorian calendar — the one more commonly observed today.
Kwanzaa, contrary to popular belief, is an African-American holiday rather than an African one. The holiday is meant to celebrate African family and social values in the U.S. Observed from Dec. 26 to Jan. 1, the holiday was established by a professor at California State University in Long Beach. It was first celebrated in 1966 and it culminates in a feast a and gift giving
Most of Senegal interprets secularism to mean they should celebrate all holidays. Islam is the predominant religion in the country, but you’ll see Christmas decorations strung up. Many mosques are decorated with Christmas lights.
Gift giving isn’t as much of a focus in Africa during Christmas as it is in other parts of the world. Gifts are usually practical in nature, such as soap and schoolbooks, or even a new set of clothing to wear to Christmas service at church.
Whereas in the U.S. or other areas of the world, you might celebrate at home with your close family on Christmas, in Africa, it’s an opportunity to visit friends and family in your community. Some Africans in the southern hemisphere celebrate Christmas with summertime beach barbecues.
Other than being with friends and family, going to church is a main focus of Christmas in Africa. Churches put on nativity scenes, dance performances and carol recitals. In some places, like the Congo, church-goers bring a gift to lay down on a Communion table.
An African meal does not consist of your regular Christmas ham and turkey. You’ll usually find lamb, pork, and even seafood like lobster tail on an African Christmas table.
In many African countries, on Christmas day children and the elderly go from house to house dressed as angels singing carols. An additional church service is held where attendees dress in native clothing.
Some countries such as The Gambia put on parades after Christmas church service, with large lanterns called fanals. Fanals are shaped like boats, usually made of bamboo and paper and lit from the inside with candles. People pull the fanals on wheels or carry them from house to house gathering donations for a large Christmas party they put on later.
Instead of your typical pine or fir tree, you’ll see everything from mango trees to palm trees decorated with bells and fake snowflakes during Christmas in Africa. Imagine the smell of sweet mango on your ornaments.