Christmas in Africa: How people celebrate in Kenya

How is Christmas celebrated in Kenya? What are the differences to our traditions? And how do the traditions differ within the country?
Christmas in Africa: How people celebrate in Kenya

Since many Kenyans are Christians, Christmas is an important celebration in Kenya. As in most countries, it is a celebration of family. Many people travel from the city to their home villages to spend the holidays with their family. It is often the only time of the year when the whole family gets together. That’s why the roads around major cities like Nairobi and Mombasa are usually crowded and traffic jams can last for hours. The cities, on the other hand, often seem deserted during the holidays.

In the cities, churches and houses are often decorated with colorful garlands and balloons, flowers and green leaves. Also a Christmas tree may not be missing! For this purpose, cypress trees are traditionally used and splendidly decorated. Often you can see artificial snow in front of, for example, shopping malls or other important buildings. Now and then you can even see someone dressed up as Santa Claus. However, he does not come in a reindeer sleigh as we do, but on a camel, in a car or even on a bicycle. In rural areas, these very western traditions are rather unusual.

In den Ballungsgebieten wird Weihnachten meist im westlichen Stil gefeiert, in den ländlichen Gegenden haben die vielen verschiedenen Stämme hingegen ihre eigenen Traditionen beibehalten. Many devout Christians go to church at midnight on Christmas Eve. There they sing, recite poems, dance and perform nativity plays. After the service, things really get going for the young people: often there is partying and dancing until morning. There are also church services on Christmas morning – those who have not danced all night can celebrate Christmas here as well.

Christmas dinner is an important part of the Kenyan Christmas celebration. Usually there is a barbecue with friends and neighbors, serving e.g. beef, chicken, sheep or goat meat. The most famous Christmas food is “Nayama Choma”, grilled goat meat. It is considered the national dish in Kenya as well as in Tanzania and means “grilled meat” in Kiswahili. It is eaten with rice and flat bread. Some families also brew their own beer for the important occasion. Those who live in the city usually gather with friends or family in a bar or restaurant. The tradition of “Christmas Carolling,” parading around and singing Christmas carols, is also growing in popularity. Groups go from house to house and are rewarded for their singing with small donations of money or candy. The donations usually benefit the church. The gift-giving culture in Kenya is less pronounced than in Germany, for example, and usually only small gifts are given.

The second Christmas holiday is called Boxing Day, as in many English-speaking countries. On this day, people continue to celebrate, visit family and friends, or recover from previous celebrations.


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