Africa: where festivities include colourful parades and family get-togethers

PUBLISHED : Friday, 07 December, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 07 December, 2007, 12:00am

The scale and manner of celebrating the festive season in the African continent vary greatly, from singing hymns and carols in churches in the Christian tradition, to masked parades complete with costumed horses. Amina Lamarre, owner of the African bar Makumba in Hong Kong, said the latter was the tradition in her home country, Cameroon.

'Festivities ... are related to African traditions,' she says, referring to the annual parade awash in bright colours, the celebrated fantasia featuring the lamido - the word for leader in West African Islamic communities - and his brightly dressed horse. For most African Muslims like Ms Lamarre, Christmas is often just another occasion to have a decent meal with the family. In fact, the holiday and all its expected festivities often turn out to be an 'occasion for the family to spend money', Ms Lamarre says. Nevertheless, those who prefer a bit of tinsel in their tree will find that the Christmas spirit is alive and well in many parts of Africa, although in differing forms and expressions.

Food itself varies a great deal across the world's second-largest continent. Even in West Africa, the Christmas menu differs significantly from country to country. Liberians take their dinner outdoors, the dinner guests sitting in a circle and sharing a meal of rice, beef, and biscuits. In Ghana, they pinch off balls of fufu, a thick yam paste. Foreigners might be more inclined to try the okra soup, another Ghanaian speciality. In East Africa, goats, rather than cows or pigs, are the four-legged animals of choice when it comes to serving up a Christmas roast. Zimbabweans in the south wash down their goat meat with tea, and enjoy bread and jam on the side, a culinary left-over from their former British colonial masters. A more traditional affair - in the western sense - takes place in South Africa. While many South Africans like to celebrate their summery Christmas with a braai, others don their party hats and head off for the conventional feast, with everything from roast beef and suckling pig down to the last slice of plum pudding.

When it comes to the festive timber, a deep sniff of an African Christmas tree might just yield a warm, waxy smell rather than a crisp, pine aroma. The West African landscape is home to the African oil palm, which is usually decorated in the same manner as the northern fir variety. Ghanaians prefer candles to electric lights for their leafy illumination, while Liberians hang bells on their palm trees.

While most western families couldn't imagine their Christmas trees without the requisite pile of presents, some African households don't have the luxury of spending money on non-essential items. Toy shops are few and far between in less affluent rural Africa, although people still indulge their loved ones with gifts of soap, cloth and candles, and sweets, pencils and books for the children. While some may argue that these are practical gifts rather than holiday treats, they can be quite hard to come by in remote areas, and are much appreciated by the receivers. After all, isn't that what Christmas is supposed to be about?