How countries in West Africa celebrate Christmas

With Christmas is just around the corner, we thought we’d take a look at how different countries in West Africa celebrate the holiday.

Christianity has been on the continent since the middle of the first century, and approximately 350 million Africans follow the religion. By now people have developed their own unique holiday traditions that combine Christian celebrations with traditional African customs.

Christianity is most prominent in the central and southern part of Nigeria, and the coastal regions stretching from southern Ghana to coastal parts of Sierra Leone.

Ghana

Christmas in Ghana is a well-deserved break, coinciding with the end of the cocoa harvest and beginning on December 1, four weeks before Christmas. Families decorate their homes and neighbourhoods in the Christmas spirit, using lights, candles and sparkly ornaments.

For most Ghanaians, it’s just the beginning. On Christmas Day, things really kick into full swing, starting with a big family meal followed by a church service for the whole community and a vibrant holiday parade to finish off.

A colourful Christmas parade in Ghana

A colourful Christmas parade in Ghana

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Liberia

In Liberia, you’re more likely to see Old Man Bayka, the county “devil” who – instead of giving presents, walks up and down the street begging for them on Christmas Day!

Instead of hearing the usual “Merry Christmas” greeting, expect to hear Liberians say “My Christmas on you.” A saying that means “please give me something nice for Christmas.”

In Liberia Christmas Eve is very important. Churches host big musical evenings with at least five to six choirs and a nativity play.  On Christmas day, most families try to cook a nice special meal.

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Nigeria

Christmas is one of the largest celebration in Nigeria. It is not only being celebrated by the Christian community but is also celebrated by the whole population of the nation. Christmas celebration in Nigeria starts on the first day of December.

 

Many different languages are spoken in Nigeria. In Hausa Happy/Merry Christmas is ‘barka dà Kirsìmatì’; in Yoruba it’s ‘E ku odun, e ku iye’dun’; in Fulani it’s ‘Jabbama be salla Kirismati’; in Igbo (Ibo) ‘E keresimesi Oma’; in Ibibio ‘Idara ukapade isua’ and it’s Edo it’s ‘Iselogbe’.

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The traditional Christmas meals in Nigeria are pounded yam, amala, rice & stew, jollof and fried rice. Rice is the most popular staple food in Nigeria and it can be prepared in different ways served with chicken and  celebratory drinks to support it. Food is accompanied with dancing, live music and spending time with family and friends.

Sierra Leone and Gambia

Other areas in West Africa also have interesting Christmas traditions. In Sierra Leone and much of Gambia, towns and villages celebrate with masquerade parties, extending the celebration beyond the faith community to include the whole town or village in the holiday spirit. As much a social event as it is a religious one, Christmas across the region brings friends and family together.