The Christmas holidays are a very important season in Africa that many look forward to. Though, from one country to another on the continent, there are variations in styles of celebration, there are some dominant factors that cut across all countries and reflect the love that comes with the season.
Africans, due to their cultural and religious beliefs, celebrate like many other believers in Christ around the world, but with a uniqueness that makes it fun-filled.
If there is one thing African countries have in common during this period, it is the culture of celebrating with family. The yuletide period brings together family members from all walks of life to share in the joy of the opportunity to celebrate Christ and another year.
While for some family members, it is a time of reuniting with each other as people from both within and outside the shores of the continent come together for a celebration to share the long-existing bond, for others, the yuletide is a time for vacations, tours, and the like to create family memories that will last all year. It also means travelling from the city and urban areas to country homes and villages for some others.
As is known to everyone, the theme for the period is love from Christ, who was born to save mankind. Africans also follow through on this in their styles, from sharing gifts to supporting the needy and sharing edible stuff.
Often, this sharing of gifts is done individually or collectively as a family, church, organisation, or other known group to show love and give everyone a sense of belonging.
Imagine just walking on the streets and a stranger walks up to you, hands you a bag of gifts, smiles at you, and says, “Merry Christmas.” Such is the norm in the Yuletide season across most African countries as people try to put smiles on each other’s faces despite the ups and downs presented by life.
One will want to wonder if the season is all about gifting one another. Well, to a large extent, because Jesus Christ, who is the reason for the season, came as a gift to the world, and most of the activities embarked upon are based on showing love, gifting becomes important.
For instance, a 2023 Cost of Christmas study by WorldRemitshowed the percentages of income people in African countries spend on gifts for friends and families as well as decorations.
For Kenya, it is about 56% of their monthly income, Zimbabwe 41%, South Africa 38%, and Rwanda 34% on gifts.
And for some other countries like Nigeria and Uganda, the biggest share of their Christmas spending goes to food, both for immediate family and friends and for gifting others. During this season, it is not strange to see Nigerians sharing food in churches, orphanage homes, and remote areas with the homeless and those on the streets, just as a sign of celebrating with them.
Speaking of food, though there are no hard and fast rules about what delicacies to cook this season, chicken has come to be synonymous with the period; therefore, it is not out of place to have a variety of African dishes paired with chicken during the yuletide, like the popular Jollof rice and chicken.
During this period, families cook foods in large quantities to accommodate as many that come knocking on their doors or who they deem fit to share with. Doing this for many does not necessarily relate to affluence; rather, it is done in the spirit of the season to make sure everyone has something to eat.
When we take it further to countries like Ethiopia and Egypt, the celebrations are taken from another angle because the Christmas period is used as a time to focus more on prayer and fasting, which sees them into the new year before they commence their new year celebrations, which are usually done on January 7th.
On a general note, Africans are religious people, and one factor that cannot be separated from the yuletide is the participation of the church. The church has become an important factor in celebrating Christmas over the years; it takes pride in organising Christmas parties, carols, and prayers, as well as other activities to engage the Christian faithful during the period.
Across the different nations of Africa, churches record huge attendance this period because as many that come home to be part of the communal traditional celebration, they throng to the churches to give thanksgiving and offer prayers for more grace.
In some countries, like Malawi, the children dance in groups and play traditional instruments for families, churches, and the like to entertain people, who in turn bless them with tokens out of love.
In addition to everything else done, decorations during the yuletide have become a part of celebration in Africa; hence, homes are well decorated during this period, such that everywhere is made bright and shining, giving the rays of merriment and celebration.
These decorations, which often begin long before the holidays take off, usher in the yuletide and are often left until the end of the first month of the new year.
Celebrating the yuletide season in Africa also comes with partying such as Christmas parties, weddings, and other get-togethers, which are intentionally left for such periods to make it more glamourous and colourful due to the numbers of people that will be around and also because of the joy in the air at such times.
The yuletide is always a busy period for Africans; from decorating to gifting, cooking to feasting and attending family parties and hangouts, it is always a time of laughter and fun with family and friends.
Though rising inflation and the state of the economy across many African countries have limited the purchasing power of many this year, Africans have found a way around it to ensure the vibes that come with the season are maintained even at minimal levels.
Above all, Christmas in African homes goes beyond just the celebration of Christ as it comes as a break from hustling when many people take a break to rest, eat good food, and dance to good music, which makes it all fun; hence, being a part of it comes with a level of pride and satisfaction that cannot be gotten from anywhere else.