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An Afro Christmas

How do African/African Americans celebrate Christmas?

We all know the worldwide meaning of Christmas, on which people commemorate the birth of Christ in Bethlehem. Although historians are debating about the actual date of his birth, the overall accepted date is December 25th.

While celebrating St Nicholas is an old tradition, Santa in his red outfit only appeared in the 1870s. Children wait with bated breath on Christmas Eve for their African American Santa Claus to bring some much-wanted gifts. Beautiful gifts depicting black people and products produced and sold by black businesses are growing, developing traditions of gift-giving. Supporting black businesses over the Christmas period can make a huge impact on their success. Where an African American Christmas decoration may adorn a Christmas tree this year, the tradition of trees began in Germany. They only spread with Queen Victoria of England in the mid-1800s as her husband Prince Albert was German.

In most African countries, church services are the most important Christmas tradition. The Yuletide season is all about honouring the birth of Jesus and you’ll find church services on both Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. You’ll also find nativity scenes, nativity plays, dance performances, communion tables and carolling.

In some countries like the Congo, the locals bring a gift for their church’s Communion table. They also hold big musical events at their church with at least five choirs and a long nativity play. In Malawi, you’ll see children going door-to-door to perform Christmas carols and play traditional instruments in return for small cash donations. While in Zambia, the churches hold nativity plays and locals sing beautiful carols in the streets.

In some countries around the world, the end of the Midnight Mass signals the time to go to bed to wait for Santa. But in many African nations, it means the party’s just getting started! In countries like The Gambia, a joyous parade is held after the Christmas Eve church service. The locals dance through the towns with fanals – large lanterns made from bamboo and paper in the shape of houses or boats. The fanals are lit with candles inside and carried from house to house to collect donations. In both The Gambia and Sierra Leone, the towns also celebrate with colourful masquerade parties. No matter the size of the Christian population, almost every country in Africa has its own amazing way to celebrate the spiritual side of Christmas.

Special Christmas feasts

If I tell you the amount of cooking that goes on in this household you'd think I'd be feeding the whole of South London, Almost everyone in the world agrees that Christmas is all about the birth of Jesus… and enjoying a feast. It’s no different in Africa, with many countries putting on their own traditional and delicious Christmas meals. In Kenya, it’s all about grilled meats at the nyama choma or meat and potato stew. South Africans agree, with their famous outdoor braais, or special barbecues at Christmas time.

Tanzanians like to roast a cow or goat to share around the village and wash it down with home-brewed beer, while in Liberia, you’ll find beef, rice and biscuits for your Christmas feast. In Nigeria, flavoured rice, tomato stew and fried chicken or goat are the stars of the festivities, while in Ghana, the locals dish up their famous Jollof rice (Nigerian), fufu and okra soup. Wherever you go and whatever you eat, the Christmas meal in Africa is all about inviting all your friends and family to share in the good times – and everyone is welcome.


Kwanzaa is an African American Christmas tradition that began in the USA in the 1960s. It was started by the civil rights leader Maulana Karenga in 1966. The idea was for black people to unify in coming together and celebrating their history. The focus would then be on values to support their development. However, just like Christmas décor, its influence moves from place to place and it is becoming popular with Black Britons too. It starts immediately after Christmas and continues until the 1st January.

What decorations are used for kwanza?

The main decoration is a kinara, a candleholder for seven candles. Three red candles sit to the left, three green to the right and there is a central black candle which is lit first. A candle is lit each day alternating between red and green, which directly link to the seven principles or Nguzo Saba.The kinara and the seven candles are two of the seven symbols used during Kwanzaa. The other symbols are a shared unity cup called Kikombe cha Umoja to represent the family and community. All drink from it and a little is poured as a remembrance to past ancestors. There is Mazao or shared crops and the Muhindi is an ear of corn for each child in the family, representing the future. Finally, the Zawadi are the gifts for children. These usually have an educational basis or remind them of their African heritage.Black, green and red which represent the Pan-African movement, it is a symbol of unity of the African-descent around the world. Black is for the people, red is for the blood and green is for the land of Africa.

What are the 7 principles of Kwanzaa?

The seven principles are:

– Umoja (unity)

– Kujichagulia (self-determination and responsibility)

– Ujima (collective work and responsibility)

– Ujamaa (cooperative economics)

– Nia (purpose in remembering and restoring black culture, customs and history)

– Kuumba (creativity)

– Imani (faith)

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