According to a census study, there are 350 million Christians in Africa and more than a handful of rituals varying by country and ethnic group.
Coptic Christians in Ethiopian and Egypt follow the ancient Julian calendar and celebrate the holiday on January 7. Traditionally referred to as Ganna, an Ethiopian Christmas might start with a day of fasting, followed by church services and a feast that includes stew, vegetables and injera bread.
Though most friends and families do not exchange gifts, communities get together for games and sports, and enjoy the festivities together before returning to work.
Christmas in Ghana coincides with the end of the cocoa harvest and begins Dec. 1, four weeks before Christmas. Families decorate their homes and neighborhoods using lights, candles and sparkly ornaments. Christmas Day might start with a family meal –- usually of goat, vegetables and soup – followed by a church service for the whole community and a colorful holiday parade.
In Liberia, you might see Old Man Bayka, the county “devil” who – instead of giving presents, walks up and down the street begging for them on Christmas Day. And instead of hearing the usual “Merry Christmas” greeting, expect to hear Liberians say “My Christmas on you.” It’s basically a saying that means “please give me something nice for Christmas.”
Christmas Eve is big in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Churches host musical evenings (many churches have at least five or six choirs) and a nativity play. On Christmas day, families might enjoy a special meal together then spend the rest of the day quietly, maybe sleeping after a late night on Christmas Eve.
“In Nigeria, we believe in Father Christmas, our version of Santa, and we light up these things we call knockouts and banga, which are like fire crackers. We always spend all the money we get/have and we cook and share food in the neighborhood,” recalls Ola Ope, a member of ONE.org which collected these rituals.
Mostly Muslim countries might have a secular “christmas” holiday. In Dakar, Senegal’s capital, street vendors sell plastic trees and inflatable santas. “While secularism may mean that each person is free to celebrate his or her own holidays, many in Senegal have interpreted it to mean they should celebrate all holidays.”
Finally from Zambia, essayist Wesley Ngwenya wrote in the Lusaka Times: ”Where is our God this Christmas? Have our images about Him or His Son been transformed completely to think of Him as someone hanging in the sky above Western countries? Do we think of Jesus as a white man with long blonde hair, a goatee, and wearing a white robe?
“Whatever your image of God or Jesus is, I hope this brings peace to you during this season. I hope it is time to celebrate with your family and friends. I hope it is time to reflect and appreciate how far you have come. And I hope it is time to look forward to more great things in the year to come. Make yourself happy this Christmas. Happy Christmas, Happy Kwanza and a winning 2015!”
w/pix of Ethiopian depiction of the birth of Christ