Christmas in Africa isn’t so different from Christmas all over the world – with the cloud filled with celebration, families reunited, carols being sung, and jingle bells ringing out loud.
In Africa, Christmas is the time when families in different parts of the world reunite. Some travel long distances to their hometown to be with their loved ones and reflect on the birth of Jesus Christ. This trip makes the celebration all the more memorable.
Although, in certain African countries, the Christmas traditions differ from one another. For example, Kenya’s Christmas traditions may differ from that of South Africa or Nigeria. But, it is a festive season regardless.
Let’s explore some Kenya Christmas Traditions and how it differs from other African countries.
Christmas in Kenya: Key Takeaways
- Christmas in Kenya is all about family and social gatherings. During the year, some people leave their families behind for several reasons so Christmas is a prime holiday to reunite.
- Travelling is another big thing on the mind of Kenyans. Places like Naivasha and Mombasa are frequently visited.
- Churches, streets and homes are beautifully decorated with balloons, ribbons, bright-coloured paper designs, garlands, green leaves and flowers.
- During Christmas Eve, families attend mass or service singing hymns, carols, and poems reflecting on the birth of Jesus.
- Christmas is celebrated in Kenya with a feast of savoury meals like nyama choma, mutura, flatbread, chapati, and pudding amongst others.
- In Kenya, Boxing Day is also a public holiday observed as a means of continued celebration.
How Christmas is Celebrated in Kenya
Christmas is always celebrated in most nations where Christianity is practised as a religion. In Kenya, Christmas is a big deal because approximately 70% of Kenyans are Christians.
Per usual, the streets are crowded, and the air is filled with the scent of delicious meals, and decorations here in light of celebrating the birth of Christ.
Asides from these general celebrations, there are some popular Kenya Christmas traditions that are unique to the Kenyans:
Family gathering is the hallmark of the Christmas celebration in Kenya. Families travel to the village to celebrate together with their grandparents and other distant relatives.
During this summer season, the major routes in Kenya are blocked for hours because of the massive traffic jam. Some other families even prefer travelling to places like Naivasha and Mombasa compared to their villages.
In response to a question about how are the Kenyan Christmas traditions celebrated on Quora, here’s what a native, Nimu Nyambae had to say:
It’s all about family. People travel to the city in search of work (greener pastures) while leaving behind some members of their family in the rural area (mostly their parents). The holiday provides families the opportunity to reunite, enjoy some ‘nyama choma’ , mutura, chapati, which is just but a few of the delicacies shared on that day… I would say people are fond of the habit of buying new stuff during this period. Clothes especially for their kids or their relatives it’s kinda our way of giving gifts… Travel is the next big thing , places like Naivasha and Mombasa are packed during this season being the preferred destination. People get to experience something different….
Nima’s answers show us that during Christmas, Kenyans really prioritise family gatherings and travelling.
Unique Christmas Decorations
In the urban part of Kenya, houses, churches and streets are decorated with colourful balloons, ribbons and flowers. Most of the houses also have bright-coloured paper designs, garlands, and green leaves. In general, a Christmas is not complete without a Christmas tree. This is also not left out in Kenya’s Christmas tradition. In cities and large towns, you get to see stunning Cyprus trees rather than the traditional pine trees.
Unlike most European countries, it doesn’t snow during this season in Kenya. So to add to the festive atmosphere, Kenyans use artificial snow in front of shopping malls and significant buildings.
Aside from the snow, Santa is also a beautiful part of Christmas rituals and can also be found in stores. However, this Santa Claus does not come to deliver gifts in the usual reindeer but arrives either by camel, car, land rover or bike. Santa in Kenya often wears something cooler rather than a warm winter suit due to the heat.
Although, in the rural part of Kenya, these decorations are not always seen. But some people put on new dresses, while others hire the services of a photographer to capture the special moments with families.
Christmas Church Mass and Services
At the midnight of Christmas even, most churches hold vigils or ‘Kesha’. Devout Christians gather to sing hymns, carols, and poems reflecting on the birth of Jesus. Some services recreate the holy event of the Christmas story with nativity plays.
At exactly midnight, churches will ring bells to signify the birth of Christ, while members sing songs of praise to bless the start of the day. And the party continues after the service!
Some Christians spend the night singing carols, while others dance until morning. In some churches in Kenya, singers move door to door around the neighbourhood singing and dancing to Christmas carols.
With this, households give money offerings in form of donations to the church for their melodious hymns. While the haves-not give fruits and grains as offerings.
In line with the Kenya Christmas traditions, some families attend another church service or mass on Christmas morning putting on their new attire.
Savoury Christmas Delicacies
There is no way Christmas is celebrated in Kenya without a feast of savoury delicacies. It is part of the tradition to eat special Christmas foods. Families preserve the best chickens, cows or goats for the celebratory meals on Christmas Day.
Nyama Choma (barbecue) is one of the popular Christmas meals in Kenya. This type of meal involves grilled meat like goat, beef, and chicken paired with chapati, flatbread, mutura and rice.
In most urban areas, there is a pudding or cake but this is not a standard practice in villages. Kenyans also brew their local beers for this festive period.
Although, those in cities stop by restaurants or bars to enjoy drinks. In the festive spirit, some families share food with neighbours others give it to the less privileged.
How Kenyans say ‘Merry Christmas’
According to ethnology, Kenya being a multilingual nation has over 68 languages. So there are many different ways to say merry Christmas in Kenya. But here are the two common ones:
‘Heri ya Krismasi’ – Merry Christmas in Swahili. The response to this seasonal greeting is ‘Nawe pia’ (you too).
‘Nchipai e Kirismas’ – Merry Christmas in the Maasai language ( also called Maa or Kimaasai).
Boxing day is one of the special Kenya Christmas traditions. This happens to fall on the day after Christmas day, the 26th of December. A public holiday is observed that day as a means of continued celebration. Individuals use this day to do more visiting of families and friends. While a few people use this day to rest or even sleep.
Christmas in Kenya is a season where there is togetherness amongst families and an opportunity to catch up with friends, and relatives. Certainly, how Christmas is celebrated in Kenya differs from other African nations. But some special traditions make it very interesting and worthwhile.
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