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How Kenya celebrate Christmas

Traditions, singing masses and food

24-12-2020 by Leni Frau

It is difficult to think of a traditional Christmas in Sub-Saharan Africa. Even less so in this year when even in Kenya gatherings are limited, even if churches can accommodate at least half of the faithful and in homes (or villages, schools and other centres of aggregation) one can gather.
We do not know if this is good or bad, but we have already seen that not everyone is very dutiful and will be even less so for the holidays.
As the years go by, the celebration of Christmas in Kenya adds to a fairly recent tradition (since the arrival of the first missions at the end of the 1800s) the more colourful African-American sung masses and mixes with the consumerism of modern times.
This is how the birth of Jesus is experienced in Kenya today.
In African countries, the coexistence of different religious cultures (even within the Catholic world) has meant that knowledge has merged to create a Christmas tradition even in a continent seemingly so distant from what we consider the ideal environment to celebrate it. 
Today there are about 400 million Christians in Africa, although not all of them are practising Christians.
For those who can afford it, gifts are usually exchanged at Christmas. 
However, the holiday has not taken on the commercial character of the Western world and the emphasis remains mainly on the religious aspect. The emphasis remains mainly on the religious aspect, with the most popular gift being a new suit to be worn at Christmas mass. In poorer communities, gifts take on a more practical aspect: school books, soap, cloth, candles and other essentials.
In Sub-Saharan Africa, Christmas often coincides with the end of the cocoa and coffee harvest and plantation workers have the opportunity to return to their families to celebrate. The streets of the villages are animated by young people singing Christmas songs and long processions of people going to listen to the religious service, bringing gifts for the needy to the church.  
In Kenya, too, there is the tradition of the Christmas tree, but it is far from being the classic fir tree of the West.
The most common ornamentation is a weave of palm leaves arranged in an arch from which white flowers, which bloom at this time of year, are hung.
Kenyans are a very merry and festive people, so on Christmas Eve in many countries, after the sung Mass, a majestic torchlight procession takes place.
The Christmas Mass sung in Swahili is one of the spectacles that anyone who visits or lives in this country, even as a non-believer, should see once in a lifetime.
The night is spent in the company of family and friends until the next day when preparations begin for lunch, which must include kid. 
At Christmas it is also customary to leave the front door open so that everyone feels welcome. The custom is to exchange gifts consisting of food, both raw and cooked. Everyone receives much more food than is actually consumed, but this abundance is considered a good omen. Many foods are eaten during the Christmas meal: pilao rice, okra soup, chicken.   
25 December is a day of joy in which to feast on what the earth and nature have to offer, in a continent where, unfortunately, too many countries have little to celebrate.

Image: Osborne Macharia

TAGS: natale kenyamessa kenyacelebrazioni kenyafeste kenya

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