Page last updated at 11:09 GMT, Wednesday, 23 December 2009

Celebrating Christmas across Africa

Santas hanging outside a shop in Cairo, Egypt

BBC News website readers have sent in their experiences of Yuletide festivities on the continent.

Here we hear about masquerades in The Gambia, goats in Kenya and Ethiopia's chilli dishes.


Christmas in The Gambia is so very special. It is celebrated by both Muslims and Christians - in fact most of the festivities are done by young Muslim boys and girls.

The day is usually announced by the sounds of drums and singing and masquerades performing dances for the delight of the people.

A masquerade performer in Nigeria (left), and one in the Cameroon (right - by BBC News website reader Ernest Mbenkum)
Masquerades are popular across West Africa

There is the "agugu" masquerade that everybody loves. It dresses in a glittering gown with white gloves and on its face is the most beautiful visage that never fails to catch your attention.

The "agugu" marches through the streets and stops at intervals to collect money and sweets that people throw at it and in turn it dances.

Far across the distance another group of people are coming. It's another masquerade - but this time it's not the "agugu", it is the "hunting".

In contrast to the beauty and elegance of the "agugu" the "hunting" is very fierce looking. It is dressed in coconut leaves and covered in lion hides and has a frightening lion's head.

Excited children in The Gambia (Photo sent in by BBC News website reader Stephanie Beck)

Children run frightened to their parents but the sparkle in their eyes shows that they are really enjoying themselves.

The dances continue and the groups in their colourful uniformed attires sing and beat the drums.

Traffic comes to a standstill and drivers give out money so they can be allowed to pass.

All too soon the day ends and people eagerly await the night, when melodious voices signal a new arrival.

Gliding through the night is the most enchanting and beautiful thing - resting on four high legs, this boat-shaped structured measures approximately four metres in height and roughly two metres wide.

It is decorated with white paper and looks more like a palace than anything else. Balloons of all colours adorn it and tens of candles are lit inside giving it a dreamy feature.

It is the Christmas "faanal". Bearers will take turns holding it and singing and dancing alongside it.

Gifts and monies are given and the "faanal" continues its journey as far as it can go.

Christmas in The Gambia is truly unique.


During this festive season, all the close family members go upcountry.

On Christmas Eve evening, children will put on a nativity play and some people will spend the whole night in church praying
Owar Ojha Ojulu

All the children aged 12 years and above are bought new clothes.

A goat must be slaughtered and in most cases the biggest male goat sees the knife.

The family head leads all the men of the family in slaughtering this goat.

The women on the other hand are in the kitchen preparing all the other meals.

Food is usually served by the teenage girls who recently finished primary school.

There is pomp and dance after the meals.

Men go to take traditional beer while women gather to share the latest gossip.

Children are left to play outside.


A child in South Africa at a carol service
Many people stay up late to a attend midnight service on Christmas Eve

Christmas among Ethiopia's Anuak community in Gambella is a remarkable feast.

Every family will starve to get new cloths and a cock or a lamb for the meal.

It falls on the shoulders of women to prepare these for the feast - with lot of chilli.

The gathering is not exclusive - all people are invited including street children

Following the custom where church members bring corn flour to be shared out with the congregation, before Christmas they contribute some money so several oxen can also be purchased and slaughtered for the Christmas Day meal.

On Christmas Eve evening, children will put on a nativity play and some people will spend the whole night in church praying to welcome Jesus's birth.

When the clock hits midnight, people will shout in joy praising and glorifying God - believing that Jesus is now born to the world.

In the morning, people will flood to the church before noon for the service.

After the service, announcements will be made for the evening gathering when everyone will sit and share the food on the same table.

The gathering is not exclusive - all people are invited including street children.

Not only this but the higher officials at the synod will assign themselves to different congregations in the rural area to spend time with them in worship and the sharing of food.

To hear more stories of Christmas in Africa tune into Network Africa on the BBC World Service on Christmas Day at 0330, 0430, 0530, 0630 and 0730 GMT.

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Celebrating Christmas across Africa
22 Dec 09 |  Africa
Celebrating Christmas across Africa
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