As I look through my living room window in Columbus, Ohio, I find a very familiar scene outside. The leaves have separated from their trees and the sun is trapped behind consistently gray clouds. Thankfully, as we get closer to Christmas, winter is brightened by colorful lights and decorations. These changes in the weather make me wonder what the Christmas season looks like in places where snow and hot chocolate might not be a common occurrence.
Working as a communications specialist for Young Life Africa and the Middle East has given me the opportunity to virtually work alongside people who live in countries and cultures that are very different from mine. This has led me to learn more about the celebration of Christmas in Africa. I met on Zoom calls with three of my co-workers, each of whom are communications specialists representing a different Young Life geography in Africa. Through these conversations, I learned some new traditions and found many similarities.
Diana Nkhoma lives in Malawi, a country located in southeastern Africa. It is nicknamed “The Warm Heart of Africa” because they are a kind and welcoming people. With this in mind, it makes sense that Diana shared that gathering with loved ones is the most important Christmas tradition to her. It is common to see large groups of around 100 people sharing chicken stew on Christmas! Malawi is an underdeveloped country, so eating chicken and rice is a treat for many people. Some will even celebrate by splurging on that classic citric delicacy, an orange Fanta.
If a family is blessed with enough resources, it is common to see them travel to Lake Malawi, the fifth-largest freshwater lake in the world. Diana said that gift-giving is valued by many in Malawi, but it is not something that every family can afford. The Young Life team in Malawi is stepping into this space and helping brighten the lives of kids at Christmas. In Blantyre, the team contributes to a generosity campaign through which they collect money and donate school supplies and other necessities to orphanages.
Monrovia is the capital of Liberia, a west African country bordered by the Atlantic Ocean, Sierra Leone, Guinea, and Ivory Coast. Zubah, communications specialist for the west geography, will have a family gathering similar to that of Diana, with about a hundred people from all over meeting for a Christmas reunion. Some of his family members who live in the United States will come back to Liberia for the whole month of December. This is very common for Liberians who moved out of the country, so the city is bustling this time of year. Almost a third of the Liberian population lives in Monrovia, and the city becomes even more crowded during Christmas time with all of the travelers wanting to enjoy the beaches.
With this said, Zubah prefers to stay home on Christmas day and enjoy the company of his wife, Pauline, and his two-year-old son, Zubah Jr. They typically will go to church in the morning, then head home to open gifts and stay in for the day. Zubah also shared that during the Christmas season in Liberia, Christians focus on caring for those who are less fortunate. When he was young, his mother led a youth ministry and he remembers singing Christmas carols and giving gifts to kids who did not have much. Zubah is continuing this season of generosity with kids in his neighborhood and is hoping his son will be someone who does the same when he is older.
On my third Zoom call with Belindah Oyugi, I noticed that there was a common Christmas celebration that I haven’t experienced. All three of my co-workers have a HUGE family party with close to a hundred people that they all know personally. Belindah’s great-grandpa had twenty-six children, and all of them, including their children, gather for Christmas every year. One of Belindah’s favorite Christmas traditions is the chicken dish that her mother makes every year called “Mother and Child”.
Mombasa’s warm weather and location along the Indian Ocean means a lot of Kenyans are out on the beaches for Christmas. She shared that they might even use snowflakes as Christmas decorations, even though they have never seen snowfall in Mombasa. Being from Ohio, this made me a bit jealous that they can spend their Christmas on the beach.
After these short calls with my friends across Africa, I noticed the Christmas season is still the same at its core across the world. It is the children of God celebrating the birth of Jesus, the one who was humble enough to take the form of an infant, fully knowing that he would die a gruesome death for the sake of his people. The birth and death of Jesus brought salvation, and that is why we celebrate it as the global Church.
The Christmas season is also a time for Young Life staff and volunteers to rest and spend time with their loved ones. To help share the global celebration of Christmas with your kids, we made coloring pages to represent each African Geography. We hope these will lead to meaningful conversations with your whole family this Christmas season and that your kids can learn about Christmas in Africa.