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Christmas in Kenya

23 Dec

How does two big days of partying with the whole family sound to you? That’s how Kenyans typically celebrate their Christmas – and it’s not so dissimilar to how we observe the holidays in the West. To mark the festive season, this article will describe the traditions of Christmas in Kenya.

Most Kenyans in the cities have left their families in the rural areas for work or study reasons, so the first activity that marks the holidays is a mass migration of people back to the villages to their parents’ home. Although only about half the population is Christian (Muslims make up the larger part of the other half), everyone has holidays at this time of year. However, the shops are not doused in Christmas decorations at this time. Some shops decorate modestly and you may catch the odd Christmas tune in the supermarket, but it is nothing close to shopping malls in the West.

By December 24, everyone has usually gathered in the rural home. The home is decorated in the morning with flowers and a Cyprus tree. Christians attend church in the evening, for midnight mass. On returning from church, the party starts! There’s no time for sleep. A goat is usually killed for the occasion and the family will make traditional bee rand the special dishes of their particular tribe. In Kenya most families invite close friends and loved ones for a dinner celebration after attending church services. Rice pudding, chicken, and other roasted meats are typically the main dishes in a Kenyan Christmas dinner and more often than not the dinner is followed by dancing either at a public venue or in the home. Dancing at the public venues is for all ages and can sometimes last until very late at night. Plenty of singing occurs, starting with the traditional songs of the family’s tribe and finishing nowadays with the Christmas carols we all know.

Some people attend church on December 25, but it’s usually women and old men. Most people, however, are still partying and the celebrations continue through the day with more eating, drinking, singing and catching up with family members. For many, this is the only time of the year that they have the opportunity to see their families, so it is a very important time to reconnect. Boxing Day, December 26, is the day for curing the hangover and giving gifts.┬áChristmas in Kenya is not as commercialized as it is in Europe and the United States. This being the case, only the few who can afford gifts give them out. The interesting thing about all of this is the fact that the emphasis of the holiday remains on its religious component, which is the celebration of the life of Jesus Christ. In fact, a lot more goes on in the church than actual gift giving. It is common for people to purchase new (albeit inexpensive) clothing in order to celebrate Jesus. A gravy-like soup made from the goat’s blood and bone is a typical (and sworn-by) hangover cure… and it’s not as bad as it sounds! Gifts are given if the family can afford such a luxury, although usually even something small is appreciated.

In KiSwahili, the greeting is “Heri ya Krismasi” (Merry Christmas) and the response is “Wewe pia” (You also).So to all of you who have been reading my articles I wish you all Heri ya Krismasi. Thank you for your support this year.


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