Turkey, gammon, leg of lamb, ox tongue, ox neck, malva pudding, trifle; if your table does not contain at least some of these for your Christmas day lunch, then you haven’t ‘eaten’ Christmas as a Namibian.
The Lounge takes a look at some African Christmas traditions and how people around the continent celebrate this occasion annually.
Mbotama Mulamu – Merry Christmas in Lingala
In the Democratic Republic of Congo, Christmas is more of a religious festival and not as commercial as we have it locally, so most people will not exchange gifts.
Christmas Eve is most important with Churches having huge musical productions and a nativity play.
Sometimes up to 5 or 6 choirs from different Churches partake in these evenings and they can last all night well, according to Emmanuel Habimana, a DRC native.
The plays too last a long time, starting from the ‘Garden of Eden’ and ending with the story of King Herod killing the male children.
In typical Congolese style, people who partake bring their A-game and tend to overact, much to the delight of the church members – no matter whichever role they are in. Jesus’ birth is timed so that it happens as close to midnight as possible followed by the rest of the story.
The play therefore usually finishes around 1am and in many places the festivities continue with singing until the sun comes up.
Christmas services then start at around 9am with a lot more singing. Families make sure they have a better meal than usual on Christmas day and this may include Chicken, nyama ya nguruwe (pork) and saka-saka which is a type of pounded and dried cassava leaf which, although is a fairly common meal, is also a staple at celebrations.
Let’s take a look at Egypt, where only about 15% of the population are Christian.
Most Egyptian Christians belong to the Coptic Orthodox Church and have very unique Christmas traditions.
Firstly Christmas is celebrated on the 7th of January as is the case with some Orthodox Christians in other countries as well.
The month leading to Christmas is called KIAHK and during that period people sing praise songs every Saturday night before the Sunday Service.
During the Advent period which is 43 days before Christmas from the 25th of November until the 6th of January, the Coptic Orthodox Christians have a fast where they eat a primarily vegan diet i.e. no products that come from animals.
This is the Holy Nativity Fast and certain age groups or otherwise unable people are excused from partaking in the fast.
Coptic Christmas Eve is a time for a special service which usually starts around 10pm to allow people to pray and meet up with family and friends to attend the service which sometimes go on until 4am.
In Kenya, Father Christmas doesn’t come with a carriage. He may very well come with a Land Rover or a camel or even a bike! Again many Christians will go to a midnight church service on Christmas Eve to celebrate with hymns, carols and songs and often nativity plays, poems and dances.
After the services people head home for the real party to start, chances are you will not even sleep that night.
Popular Christmas traditions in Kenya are a meat barbeque with a variety of meats with rice and chapati, which is a popular staple flat bread.
The big Christmas lunch is called ‘nyama choma’ and often people make their own traditional beer to drink.
Boxing Day December 26th is a holiday in Kenya and widely used to continue the festivities or to rest. Generally small gifts are exchanged and mostly from adults to children.
In Kiswahili Merry Christmas is ‘Heri ya Krismasi’ and the response is ‘Wewe pia’ (you too).
Nigerian Christmases aren’t much different, where midnight Christmas Eve services are attended and is generally a family event.
Families travel to villages where grandparents and older family members live where they will throw Christmas parties.
According to Larry Nwachukwu Merry Christmas in Igbo (one of the languages spoken in Nigeria) is ‘E keresimesi Oma’.
Larry says many families will host big Christmas parties to last all night long, but they will always make it to Church on Christmas morning to give thanks to God.
Their homes and streets are decorated and most homes will have a Christmas tree.
Firecrackers and noise makers are a big attraction for children at Christmas and church choirs may visit members of their church congregation in their homes to entertain and to partake.
Traditional Christmas meals in Nigeria may contain pounded yam, jollof rice, fried rice and a variety of stews. More modern families may even include a turkey to their menu which is a huge treat.
Children may be dressed in their Christmas best and taken to the malls to meet and take pictures with ‘Santa Claus’ as something fun to do before they exchange gifts amongst family.
In Namibia and South Africa schools are closed for the Christmas holidays and many people enjoy travelling away from home, some to go camping or to visit the beach, chalets, etc.
Carol singing, carols by candlelight and Christmas plays are very popular and a performance can be caught pretty much every other day, says Josephine Skrywer.
Imitation fir trees are erected and decorated in most homes and some go all the way and decorate their homes with festive lights over the festive period.
People sometimes drive along the streets and neighbourhoods to view these magnificent displays.
Meal preparations can start two months before Christmas with the baking of biscuits and fruit cakes as well as brewing ginger beer for the celebratory days.
Christmas Eve is spent with the family around the home and in the kitchen preparing for big meal on Christmas day, while the midnight services cannot be missed.
The Christmas meal has a huge variety and is always followed by pudding, while kids may pull Christmas crackers.
Christmas Day afternoon is spent visiting friends and family, bringing them gifts and partaking in an exchange of each other’s Christmas lunch.
Boxing Day (December 26th) is a holiday in Namibia and South Africa and people like to be out and about, enjoying the sun, resting and recuperating heading back to work on the 27th.
Omayuva omawa wOmuna wOmundu (Merry Christmas in Otjiherero)