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Inflight Magazine of Brussels Airlines

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Celebrating the festive season in Africa can be very different from a European Christmas – but one thing you’re assured of is a good time. Kate Thomas joins the party

From the breezy shores of Ghana to the hills of Rwanda, African countries with large Christian communities celebrate Christmas with flair. And many of the continent’s Muslim countries, such as Senegal – where 94% of the population follows Islam – partake in celebrations too, unable to resist an excuse for a party.

In Ghana and Ivory Coast, the holiday season coincides with the beginning of the cocoa harvest; a traditional time of wealth for farmers and families living in rural areas. On Christmas Eve, hip-hop music competes with traditional carols drifting through the countryside and down the rust-red lanes. In urban areas, the festive season kicks off with processions of drummers, dancers and brass bands winding through the streets, offering sweets to children. Afishapa (Merry Christmas)!

Ghana’s processions can’t compete with Gambia’s fanal parades, however, held mainly in the region of Kombo in the run-up to Christmas. Here hundreds of people take to the streets waving lanterns fashioned into boats – a hangover from the 18th-century French-Senegalese signares, who would traditionally walk to Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve with their path lit by lanterns designed to look like their own houses.

In Liberia and Sierra Leone, people attend church more often during Advent. Many churches send representatives out into the streets, playing gospel music and reading bible passages through loudspeakers. Most communities stage a Christmas pageant, which is often written and rehearsed months ahead. Although fir trees can be hard to find on the west coast of Africa, many families decorate palm trees with bells, lights and ornaments. Tinsel is widely available in stores and markets, and when it comes to decorating the tree, the gaudier the better. A typical Liberian Christmas lunch might involve thick goat soup and a shared dish of palm butter, eaten with fufu and fingers. Whole families crowd round in circles to eat, and portions are usually doubled to mark the celebration.

In Kenya, mince pies compete with fermented porridge as a warming Christmas treat. Known as uji, this maize and millet dish is typically left to ferment for two days before being served. Christmas dinner is often fish or nyama choma – a meal of seasoned chargrilled ribs.

Throughout Africa, 31 December is party time. In Senegal the celebrations kick off late – often around 10pm – with a shared dish of thieboudienne; a spicy mix of fish, rice, carrots and leaves from the baobab tree. Clothes – usually traditional boubous – are often made for the occasion, and hairdressers and beauty parlours are fully booked in the days before New Year’s Eve. The dancing begins around midnight and often spills out into the streets, ending as the sun comes up on the new year.

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