While Christmas is indeed celebrated in many parts of Africa, the traditions and customs shared in celebration of this time of year are as diverse as the country itself! In America, we share traditions with much of the world on Christmas like attending church, gathering for a nice meal, or exchanging gifts -- and these traditions can also be seen throughout much of Africa. But, there are many beautiful Christmas traditions that are unique to their country of origin, and we'd love to share them with you! Here are a few African Christmas traditions that you might not know about, yet. ;)

What is Christmas Like in Different Parts of Africa?

First, Let's Talk About Kwanzaa

In 1966, a new celebration was birthed here in America by Black Activists Maulana Karenga and his wife Tiamoya to celebrate and embrace the traditions of African culture. Kwanzaa is a holiday celebrated by many African Americans and people of the African diaspora. It comes from the Swahili phrase “matunda ya kwanza” which means ‘first fruits of the harvest’ -- taking inspiration from the start of the harvest season in Africa, when the first crops are gathered. The celebration runs from December 26 until January 1, each year. During Kwanzaa, families and friends come together to celebrate African culture and heritage. They may light the Kinara (pictured below), the seven candles of Kwanzaa, to represent the seven principles of Kwanzaa: Unity (Umoja), Self-Determination (Kujichagulia), Collective Work and Responsibility (Ujima), Cooperative Economics (Ujamaa), Purpose (Nia), Creativity (Kuumba) and Faith (Imani). People also enjoy music, special feasts, and exchange of gifts. By celebrating Kwanzaa, people can honor their African heritage and build strong communities within the African diaspora.

Kwanza candles

Kwanzaa is a holiday of joy and celebration, but also a time to reflect on the past and look forward to the future. Family members often share stories of African heritage and culture, emphasizing their role in continuing the legacy of their ancestors. In this way, Kwanzaa is a perfect opportunity for families to come together, build relationships, and create lasting memories.

Kwanza honors the celebrations of Africa during the holidays, so let's take a look at just a few of them.

In Ghana, Christmas Eve is celebrated with a big feast of Fufu and soup.

Fufu and soup

In Ghana, Christmas Eve is a particularly special night. Ghanaians have a big feast to honor it, with a special food called Fufu, as well as a soup of some kind. Fufu is typically made from ground cassava or yams slowly pounded in a mortar; not only does this create an incredibly delicious dish but it's also seen as a symbol of family bonding and the coming together of community. And certain soups like palm nut soup or groundnut soup—made with peanuts or tree-nuts—make the dinner even more festive, adding warmth and nutrition to the big event. Celebrating Christmas in Ghana is no small endeavor; it's an opportunity to bring out the best in family and friends, while feasting on delectable flavors unique to this part of the world.

Families in Ethiopia often exchange gifts on January 7th, which is when they celebrate Christmas.

Christmas is a special time for families to be together and express how much they care about each other. For Ethiopian families, this sacred tradition of giving meaningful gifts is celebrated on January 7th, or on the Ge'ez Ethiopian calendar, the 29th day of Tahsas! On this day, Ethiopians not only exchange presents but also spread love and joy within their respective families. As an integral part of the festive celebrations, it is a beautiful way to show appreciation for the ones who mean the most. Ethiopia's unique cultural expression of Christmas truly expresses the heartwarming sentiments that characterize this magical holiday season.

Mozambique celebrates Christmas with a dish called matapa, made with shrimp, peanuts, and coconut milk.

Every year when Christmas rolls around, Mozambique often celebrates with a unique and delicious dish called matapa. It's made with staples local to the area: shrimp, peanuts, and coconut milk. Matapa has become a tradition in Mozambique that really brings family and friends together to celebrate the holiday. Not only is it incredibly tasty, but its preparation emphasizes the importance of having unity while connecting people through food. While this special dish is meant to be shared among loved ones during the festive season, it's definitely worth trying out any time you want to enjoy some heartwarming cuisine!

German Influence on Christmas in Namibia

German style Christmas cookies

Many current Christmas traditions in Namibia come from Germany as it was a German colony between 1884 and 1915. On St Nicholas' Day (December 6th), many children in Namibia hope for a visit from the man himself and towns and cities often light up with decorations. But not just any decorations - festive lights of snowmen and candles embellished by mighty African elephants make this holiday extra special! And when it comes time to decorate the Christmas tree, some families purchase branches or pines shipped all the way from South Africa; but many opt for local thorn trees instead. Namibians also celebrate this magical night around an exquisite meal, often served with traditional ‘German style’ gingerbreads or marzipan cookies made especially for the occasion.

In South Africa, many people spend Christmas day outdoors enjoying the warm weather

South Africa Sunny Day

South Africa has always been blessed with incredibly warm weather around the Christmas season, and it means that locals are able to get outside and really enjoy the day. That's just what happens every Christmas in South Africa; families come together outside, sometimes as early as dawn, to enjoy a delicious breakfast in the company of loved ones. This is followed by more fireside conversations and plenty of fun activities throughout the morning hours, from cricket games to surfing sessions. There's never a lack of things to do when you're enjoying the outdoors on Christmas day in South Africa! It really is the most wonderful time of year.

No matter where you are in Africa, chances are you'll find people celebrating Christmas with singing, dancing, and lots of food!

The celebrations around Christmas in Africa are something special! Everywhere you look, people are out singing and dancing, demonstrating the joyous spirit of this holiday. It's wonderful to experience the local culture that is intertwined with many of the festivities, as it brings a truly unique flavor to the world-wide celebration of Christmas. No matter where you find yourself in Africa during this time of year, you're sure to encounter delicious food, warm hospitality and fond memories that will last a lifetime.

So whether you're in Ghana, Nigeria, Kenya, Ethiopia, South Africa, or anywhere else in the world, make sure to take some time out of your busy schedule to enjoy this special holiday with the people you love most. Merry Christmas!

December 16, 2022 — Temidayo Adedokun

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