As in most Christian cultures, celebrating Christmas dinner with friends and family is the second priority after attending church. Since Christmas is a public holiday in most countries people take the opportunity to visit friends and family. In East Africa goats are sold out at a blink of an eye at the local markets and roasted on Christmas day. In South Africa the sun is hot and the beaches are full of families enjoying braais (barbeques) or traditional Christmas dinners with paper hats, mince pies, turkey and plum pudding (a vestige of the British colonial legacy.) In Ghana Christmas dinner is not complete without fufu and okra soup and in Liberia rice, beef and biscuits are the order of the day. Zimbabweans make sure there are plenty of bread, jam and tea to eat along with their goat meat.
People who are well-off generally buy gifts for family & friends but the holiday is not as commercial as it is American & European countries, because main emphasis is more on the religious part of celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ than gift giving. Usually & most importantly, Christians buy a new set of clothes to be worn to the church service. Majority of African Christians are too poor to be able to afford presents for their children & there aren’t too many toy stores in rural Africa to shop at anyway. If gifts have to be exchanged in poorer communities they usually come in the form of school books, soap, cloth, candles and other practical goods.
Church Services and Caroling:
The history of Christianity in Africa dates back to the 1st Century AD. Every missionary have heard & witnessed that Africans are very spiritual people. (Besides Christianity, the other main religions are Islam and indigenous beliefs). Going to church is generally the main focus of Christmas celebrations in Africa. Nativity scenes are played out, carols are sung and in some cases dances are performed.
One of my earliest Christmas memories in Malawi is watching groups of young children go door to door to perform dances and Christmas songs dressed in skirts made of leaves and using home-made instruments. They received a small gift of money in return. In many countries the processions after the Christmas Eve church service is a joyous occasion of music and dance. In the Gambia for example, people parade with large intricately made lanterns called fanals in the shape of boats or houses. Every country has their own unique celebrations no matter how small their Christian population.
Decorating shop fronts, mango trees, churches and homes is common throughout African Christian communities. There are some reports of fake snow decorating store fronts in Nairobi, palm trees laden with candles in Ghana or oil palms loaded with bells in Liberia.
Christmas in Africa:
Christmas is celebrated throughout the African continent by Christian communities both large and small. There are roughly 350 million Christians in Africa. Christmas Carols are sung from the Congo to South Africa. On Christmas day, meats are roasted, gifts are exchanged and family visits made. The Coptic Christians in Ethiopia and Egypt celebrate Christmas on the 7th of January (rather than the 25th of December) because they follow a different calendar.
Christmas in North America:
In the United States and Canada, many elements of modern Christmas celebrations did not emerge until the 19th century. Before then Christmas had been an ordinary workday in many communities, particularly in New England, where early Puritan objections to Christmas celebrations remained highly influential. Among some groups, Christmas was an especially animated event, characterized by huge feasts, drunkenness, and raucous public partying. In an English tradition that survived in some parts of North America, Christmas revelers would dress in costume and progress from door to door to receive gifts of food and drink. Most holiday gifts were limited to small amounts of money and modest presents passed from the wealthy to the poor and from masters to their servants. Families almost never exchanged Christmas gifts among themselves.
Christmas in East Asia:
The eastern part of Asia comprises mainly of China, Japan, North Korea, South Korea and Vietnam. Christians in eastern part of Asia, which are China, Japan, North Korea, South Korea & Vietnam celebrate Christmas on 25th December by lighting their houses with beautiful paper lanterns and decorating their Christmas trees, which they call “Trees of Light,” with paper chains, paper flowers, and paper lanterns. Chinese Children hang muslin stockings and await a visit from Santa Claus, whom they call Dun Che Lao Ren (dwyn-chuh-lau-oh-run) which means “Christmas Old Man.”
There is no official celebration of Christmas in Japan because less than one percent of the Japanese population is Christian. But wherever Christmas is celebrated, the trees are decorated with small toys, dolls, ornaments, gold paper fans, lanterns, and even wind chimes. Candles are also placed on the branches. One of the most popular ornaments is the origami swan.
Every Korean church would have some kind of Christmas music program on Christmas day. Koreans also love to decorate for Christmas; every coffee shop is decorated for the season. Christmas day is spent shopping and most of the Korean families spending the day together going from shop to shop just “eye shopping”.
Christmas in India:
Christian community in India celebrates Christmas with splendor, fun and devotion. Celebrations of the festival begin on the eve of Christmas on 24th of December and continue till New Year’s Day. Christians across the country remember birth of Lord Jesus Christ by participating in special masses organized in churches. Celebrations of Christmas are marked by carols, cakes, candles and decoration of Christmas Tree. In several parts of India, especially in metropolitan cities like Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore and Chennai, Christmas Festival has assumed as one of important holidays of India and is joyfully celebrated by people of all religions and communities join their Christian friends to make the most of the joyous celebrations.
Preparations for Christmas in India:
In Christian homes, preparations for Christmas begin at least a month in advance. People get their homes whitewashed and involve in spring cleaning of the house to give it a fresh new look. The women Ladies start preparations for the traditional Christmas cake which is anxiously awaited not just by the entire family but also by the neighbors. Shopping activity takes place as everyone buys new clothes for the festival. Christmas Gifts are also bought for friends, relatives and kids in the family. Christmas is also the time for family reunions because people staying in different cities for job or higher studies come back to their homes to celebrate this festive season with their near & dear ones.
Christmas in Goa:
Most exciting celebration of Christmas can be seen in the vivacious state of Goa. A large number of domestic and international tourists flock to the beaches Goa during Christmas festival to watch Goa at its cultural best. One can also get amused in the best of Goa music and dance during Christmas festivities. Catholics in Goa participate in the traditional midnight mass services locally called Missa de Galo or Cock Crow as they go on well into early hours of the morning.
On Christmas Day or Christmas Eve, a special meal is usually served. In some regions, particularly in Eastern Europe, these family feasts are preceded by a period of fasting. Candy and treats are part of Christmas celebration in many countries.