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Christmas traditions across Africa
Although for many of the African countries Christmas comes during the summer months, accompanied by lots of sunshine and colourful flowers in full bloom, the spirit of Christmas on this continent remains the same. All African countries share the global tradition of families getting together.
Here, many families are separated for much of the year, with parents and grandparents living in remote villages whilst the younger generation are often far from home in towns and cities, and this special time of the year brings them all together!
While many Christmas traditions of Southern Africa were instilled by the British during the colonial era and are very similar to the traditions we have back home, Christmas celebrations in the Northern Africa region are very unique from country to country.
Volunteering in Africa is our speciality. For many years we have been building and developing our projects hand-in-hand with local African communities, and their traditions have grown to become our own. We love sharing the festive spirit of Africa and we have prepared this article for you to understand what to expect when volunteering with us during this most magical time of the year!
Family Christmas in Zimbabwe
In Zimbabwe, for many people, Christmas day starts with a special church service, and the children, dressed in their best clothes, sing the songs that they have practised for this special day. After church, the whole family gather together to start a celebration and feast. But instead of spending the whole time at home, people traditionally go door to door to visit all of their family’s and friends’ parties before finally returning back to their own.
Another common tradition of a Zimbabwean Christmas is for people to decorate only the main room of their house, and ivy is as important as a Christmas tree in Zimbabwe when it comes to decor.
What else to expect when celebrating Christmas in Zimbabwe? A lot of dancing and singing!
Christmas Nativity Games in Zambia
As religion plays an important role in the life of Zambian people, during these dates it can’t be missed especially. Many churches in Zambia perform nativity games and have a crib in the church. In addition, a couple of days before Christmas you can hear beautiful carols being sung in the local streets.
In Zambia, the festive season is also spent with family. On the morning of the 25th of December, the whole family exchanges gifts, just like the tradition in the UK.
What else to expect when celebrating Christmas in Zambia? Fireworks, firecrackers and cars honking throughout the night.
Christmas Feast in Tanzania
Just like in the rest of the world, a good Christmas dinner in Tanzania is a good sign. Here, families often buy a cow or a goat in January to feed it up in time for Christmas in preparation to eat it on Christmas Eve. Many villages also brew their own beer to accompany the meat.
Going to church on Christmas Day is very common too and many people leave home early in the morning, dressed up in new clothes, to celebrate with the community.
What else to expect when celebrating Christmas in Tanzania? Beautiful decorations made from recycled materials like recycled bottles.
Braai for Christmas in South Africa
On Christmas day in South Africa, people also visit family and friends and often choose to go to the countryside to enjoy the summer sun. Those who stay in the cities, like to take their dinners out to their verandas and gardens or organise a “braai” (South African barbeque).
Boxing day is also a public holiday in South Africa, so people continue celebrations with festive meals, presents and picnics outside.
What else to expect when celebrating Christmas in South Africa? Carols being sung at the botanical gardens, waterfront and even throughout the vineyards.
The Biggest Festivity in Kenya
Christmas in Kenya is considered one of the biggest festivities of the year. In the villages, as they gather in their hundreds, mealtimes blend into each other and members of the family dance and sing around the fire.
The typical Christmas meal is meat stew with potatoes and vegetables, accompanied by chapati or corn cake, as well as goat or cow meat on the grill.
What else to expect when celebrating Christmas in Kenya? Midnight mass on the 24th of December.
Coptic Church Christmas Traditions in Egypt
Most Egyptian Christians belong to the Coptic Orthodox Church and they are the only part of the population who celebrate Christmas. The Coptic Orthodox Church follows the Coptic calendar, so Coptic Christians celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ on January 7th. The 43 days before Christmas, called Advent, lasts from November 25th to January 6th.
On Christmas Eve, January 6th, Coptic Christians attend a special church service, which normally starts around 10 pm and concludes shortly after midnight, but some last until dawn. When the Christmas service ends, they return home to break their fast with big Christmas feasts. All the dishes contain beef, poultry, eggs, and all the other things they didn’t eat during the Advent fast. On Christmas Day, people come together for parties and festivities.
What else to expect when celebrating Christmas in Egypt? Kahk, special sweet biscuits, which are eaten with the kids as soon as they wake up on the Christmas day.
Don’t have a chance to go to Africa for Christmas, but want to bring the spirit of Africa back home? Or are you looking for a unique family tradition for your kids to remember? Why not start one of your own African Christmas traditions this year!
Baking holiday treats is a great time to get the whole family in the kitchen which becomes the heart of each home around the world over Christmas. This year try to make Egyptian Kahk and have it together with the kids on a Christmas morning just like they do in Egypt!
Here is a family recipe shared with us by our project manager in Egypt, Sarah Osman.
- 3 cups flour (375 g)
- 3 tablespoons toasted sesame seeds
- 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
- ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1 teaspoon instant yeast
- 1 pinch kosher salt
- 1 cup ghee (220 g), room temperature
- ⅓ cup warm water (80 mL)
Pistachio honey filling
- 1 tablespoon ghee, or butter
- 1 tablespoon flour
- 1 teaspoon sesame seed
- ¼ cup honey (85 g)
- ½ cup pistachio (50 g), coarsely ground
- powdered sugar, for dusting
- In a large bowl, combine the flour, sesame seeds, sugar, cinnamon, yeast, and salt. Stir with a fork, then add the ghee and warm water and beat with an electric hand mixer until a soft, pliable dough forms.
- Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let the dough rest for 1 hour.
- Meanwhile, make the pistachio honey filling: In a small pot over medium heat, melt the ghee, then add the flour and stir until golden brown.
- Reduce the heat to low, add the sesame seeds and honey, and stir until thickened, for about 5 minutes.
- Remove the pot from the heat, add the pistachios, and mix well to incorporate.
- Let the filling cool for 10 minutes, then form into 24 small balls.
- Preheat the oven to 375°F (190°C). Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
- Once the dough has rested, roll into 24 balls.
- Press a ball of the pistachio filling into the centre of a dough ball, then wrap in the dough and roll again into a ball that completely encases the filling. Repeat with the remaining dough and filling. Arrange the cookies on the prepared baking sheet.
- Press the cookies lightly into a Mamoul tool or make a crosshatch pattern using a fork.
- Bake the cookies for 18–20 minutes or until the bottoms are golden brown.
- Let the cookies cool on a wire rack.
- When ready to serve, dust the cookies with powdered sugar.
- Enjoy and have a very Merry Christmas!