Today we talk about how people celebrate Christmas in the two African countries we work in..
Christmas in Kenya is considered one of the biggest festivities of the year. Despite being celebrated by Christians only, the spirit is spread to other religions, so the union is greater in these special dates and the spirit of community takes over.
The preparations start at the beginning of December. One of the first steps is to get the necessary food and the clothing that we want to wear for the first time or give away, to avoid the last minute rush and price increases.
As happens in Spain, the roads are very busy at this time of the year, but in this case with matatus (typical transport) or mini buses, full of goats, chickens, suitcases, furniture, sacks of food and people looking to meet their families, whom they mostly see in these holidays, in their rural areas.
On Christmas Eve the preparations for Christmas seriously begin: the last purchases are made and the crews are organised to cook until the wee hours of the morning. Each and every one of the members of the family is involved in these culinary marathons. While some cut vegetables, others gather firewood; the bravest pursue and sacrifice the cattle chosen for the occasion, and both the young and the elder sing carols and traditional songs that are heard everywhere. The firecrackers are the focus of the night at the moment when the clock strikes 00:00 hours, the noise announces the arrival of Christmas.
The typical Christmas meal is meat stew with potatoes and vegetables, accompanied by chapati or corn cake; pilau, which is a spicy rice of arab origin; and goat or cow meat on the grill.
Christmas day starts very early, at 5.30 am. Children prepare themselves to go to church and other members of the family take care of the decoration: “you have to buy a lot of tinsel and the biggest balloons in the shop”. “It is tradition to wear new shoes and even socks, if you haven’t been able to buy them you have to wear the best ones you have and clean them until they are shiny”. After lunch, if you are close to the city, families gather in a park to take pictures that will them be distributed and framed in every house.
In the villages, as they gather up to 100 people, the meals always lengthen until dinner time becoming an authentic celebration in which the members of the family dance and sing around the fire.
In regards to New Years, the celebration is similar to the Spanish one, drinking and dancing, with the exception that there are no grapes and the countdown begins in the last five seconds.
Christmas in Zambia is not like in the rest of the world or at least as we usually see in movies. Not only does it not snow, but it is also very warm, reaching a temperature of 35 degrees; people do not wear hats; sleighs do not exist and in the queues of the shopping centers, although they are full of lights, Christmas trees and Santa hats, you only see carts full of food and cleaning products. But all this does not mean it is not as special.
Zambia is a country where religion is something that can’t be missed during these dates especially, that is why most of the churches decide to organise meetings that can last up to 2 or 3 days, where they combine talks with prayers and celebrations. In addition, many churches in Zambia perform nativity games and have a crib in the church. One or two days before Christmas, they sing carols in the streets.
The most important day is December 24, Christmas Eve. The Zambians go to church during the day and many people stay until midnight to celebrate together the birth of Jesus. From 00:00h, it is also very common to hear fireworks, firecrackers, cars honking and, above all, music. In Zambia music is never lacking.
These being stipulated days, the families who can afford it also have special food. A chicken is usually killed, rice is eaten instead of nshima (a typicn dish in Zambia which is usually eaten every day) and there are soft drinks for everyone. There are very few famiies that can afford to give gifts, this is why it is not a tradition to have Santa Claus or Wise Men.
On their behalf, on December 31 at around 10:00 pm they go to mass and then, all together, count down 10 seconds and have dinner.
In conclusion, for the Zambians these are days of celebration on which they do what they like the most, going to mass, being in family, listening to music and dancing.