The slightly distorted tunes of ”Jingle Bells” are resonating from the speakers of an old transistor radio. Colourful lights are twinkling in the decoration-cluttered Christmas trees. Children filled with excitement and people in festive clothing are waiting in a crowd to enter the churches for mass. It is Christmas time in Africa.

Most countries celebrate on the 25th of December, but some follow the older Julian calendar, which considers the birth of Jesus to be on the 7th of January. Unlike in the Northern hemisphere, Christmas in Africa is celebrated in the streets, where the concrete is burning under the shimmering heat of the sun. The overloaded Christmas trees are not fir trees as those are rare on African soil. Instead, people decorate palm trees, cypresses, cacti and sometimes even cone-shaped stacks of discarded tires.

Due to the lack of fir trees in Africa, people get creative to resemble the European Christmas trees (Photo: Nadine Klose / Shutterstock.com)

The African continent inhabits some of the oldest Christian communities which date back to the first century Anno Domini (literally meaning ”the year of our Lord”). Today, almost half of the population across Africa is Christian, mostly due to European missionaries spreading Christianity in the colonies during the 19th and 20th centuries. And so, the Christmas holidays are a big deal in Africa. Even in Muslim-dominated countries like Senegal, the birth of Jesus is celebrated, and mosques are decorated with plastic Christmas trees. 

Communities and families get together in colourful dresses to partake in street parades with drums and rattles, and massive barbeques are set up for the Christmas feast. Then, Santa comes around on the back of a horse, a camel or in the seat of a safari jeep. 

A camel for Christmas (Photo: Smiltena / Shutterstock.com)

This article has been updated since its original publication.


Helene Witte