Holidays Around the World

Holidays Around the World

Africa and African-Americans

12/29/2023 | Angela Whitlock, CSRA

To finish off our holiday posts on how different areas of the world celebrate during this time of year, let’s take a look at Africa and African communities within the United States.  


The African community makes up about 17% of the total population within Champaign County, making them our second largest demographic. This is one of the reasons why it is important to learn more about their holiday traditions.

In Ethiopia, Christmas is called Gena. In Eritrea, it is called Ledet. Both countries celebrate this holiday in January. Many Christians residing in these two countries fast for 40 days. This is called the Fast of the Prophets. Other traditions involve going to church on Christmas morning, where there are colorful musical celebrations that involve the priests performing rituals, including dancing and playing drums and other instruments. They also play a game called gena in the afternoon, which is a kind of hockey game. According to Ethiopian legend, the game was played by the shepherds tending their flocks on the night of Jesus’ birth. The holiday is followed with a three-day fetival called Timkat, that begins on January 19 and celebrates Jesus’ baptism.

In Senegal, Christmas is a popular holiday, which is interesting due to it being a Muslim-majority country and having a strict adherence to Islam. The capital city of Dakar is known to be heavily decorated with Christmas trees and lights. Street vendors begin selling holiday items and decorations. The holiday in Senegal is primarily celebrated secularly and is limited to its commercial aspects.

Christmas is a public holiday in Nigeria, and it is marked by the emptying of towns and cities of Nigerians who return to their ancestral villages to be with family during this time. On Christmas Eve, traditional meals are prepared based on the traditions of each region. In the south, jollof rice is served with stews of various meats alongside boiled peans and fried plantains. In the north, rice and stew, as well as tuwon shinkafa (a rice pudding with various meat stews) is served. A popular dish in both regions is pepper soup with fish, goat, beef, or fufu (pounded yam), and served with palm wine.

Christmas is also a public holiday in South Africa, and many European traditions are maintained. Christmas trees are set up in homes and children receive presents in their stockings. On Christmas Eve, children leave milk and cookies out for Santa Claus, who brings them gifts. Towns and cities have carols by candlelight, and donate clothing and toys to needy children.  Christmas meals can include such dishes as mince pies, turkey, gammon, beef tongue, green salad, roast beef, or barbecue. Other popular treats are Christmas pudding and ice cream.

In Zambia, Christmas is an official holiday that revolves primarily around religious practice. Zambians celebrate the holiday by attending church and singing carols for charity. It is also common for many churches to have nativity scenes up during this time.

Many African communities throughout the United States also celebrate Kwanzaa. Kwanzaa is an annual celebration of African-American culture that goes from December 26 to January 1. The holiday was created by Maulana Karenga, an activist who based the creation on African harvest festival traditions from various parts of West and Southeast Africa. It was first celebrated in 1966. The celebration culminates with a communal feast called Karamu, which is usually held on the sixth day.

Kwanzaa celebrates what its founder called the seven principles of Nguzo Saba (originally Nguzu Saba – the seven principles of African Heritage). These seven principles are all Swahili words, and they comprise a common philosophy amongst the African-American community.

These seven principles are:

Umoja (Unity)

Kujichagulia (Self-Determination)

Ujima (Collective Work and Responsibility)

Ujamaa (Cooperate Economics)

Nia (Purpose)

Kuumba (Creativity)

Imani (Faith)


*information taken from a series of news articles, as well as,,,, and

*image obtained from Google Arts & Culture, source unknown.