Christmas is a time of anticipation and hope for Christians around the world. That Jesus Christ came to earth, God in human flesh as Redeemer and Reconciler is the reason for all weary souls to rejoice.
While the themes of Christmas are the same for each Christian, how we celebrate the advent of Jesus is not. The work that With Open Eyes does in fourteen countries around the world offers a fresh perspective on the impact not only of Christmas but the Gospel of Jesus. In the face of persecutions and hardships, the men and women we’ve met have been filled with the light of hope and joy, even as they fight against despair and worry.
To honor some of the countries we serve, we wanted to share the unique ways they celebrate Christmas. Traditions, meals, festivals and the like are all a part of the worldwide, yet unique way the body of Christ celebrates His birth.
Kenyans make an effort to be with family for the holidays. They travel to rural villages to celebrate and exchange gifts. Time together centers around special meals. Those meals consist of goat and chicken; both types of meat often considered a luxury at other times in the year. Families usually dress up in their best Christmas attire and get family photographs taken together.
When the meals are done, and the pictures taken, people often head to church. Night vigils (known as Keshas) and live nativity reenactments are commonly found at many of the area churches. With bells ringing and the sounds of voices raised in worship and cheer, it’s not hard to picture the lively celebration. A celebration worthy of a King and a Savior come down to earth.
Christmas in Ghana is a days-long celebration. Starting the 20th of December and running into January, Ghanaians travel to see family and begin a number of festivities and traditions unique to their country.
Since Ghana is home to 66 different languages, churches make sure that the services can be understood by most attending. There is dancing, worship, and live nativities. If you happen to attend a church service on Christmas Eve, there is a high possibility you will see a fireworks show!
Mixed in with church services and fireworks are family gatherings full of food. Traditional food includes stew or okra soup, porridge and meats, rice and a yam paste called ‘fufu.’ There may also be chocolate around, as December is cocoa bean harvest season – and Ghana is the second largest cocoa producer.
The Democratic Republic of Congo
In the Democratic Republic of Congo, Christmas is celebrated more like a religious festival than a commercial holiday. The focus of Christmas is a live play of the Nativity. Starting in the early evening, men and women play the parts everyone from Adam and Eve to King Herod to Mary. The productions, which begin with the story of the Garden of Eden and end with King Herod killing innocent boys, are big productions, lasting well into the night.
When all the church festivities wind down on Christmas Day, families get together and celebrate with a meal. If they can afford meat, beef and chicken are served. Some families prepare for Christmas well in advance, raising goats or chickens or cows specifically for the Christmas meal. After the meal, they often rest as most people go back to work on December 26.
In India, Christians are less than five percent of the population. There is no official celebration of Christmas in the country. However, that doesn’t stop cities like Mumbai and states like Goa from going all out during the season.
Indians celebrate Christmas with Christmas trees. But not the fir or pine trees Americans are used to in their homes. Instead, they light up banana or mango trees, using the leaves of the mango trees to decorate their homes. They also create Christmas treats to share with neighbors and friends like neureos which are small pastries which are stuffed with dry fruit and coconut then fried and dodol which is similar to toffee that has coconut and cashew in it.
But Christmas in the small Christian parts of India wouldn’t be complete without the Nativity. Many homes showcase small nativities made from clay. Star lanterns are also a tradition. People create the lanterns and hang them outside their houses, lighting them at night for a magical walkway through neighborhoods.
These are just a few of the different traditions, ceremonies and meals people we serve around the world participate in for Christmas. As we read about these celebrations, may it give us a higher perspective of what the body of Jesus looks like around the world. We are a diverse community, made up of men, women, and children who love and worship Jesus Christ who came to seek and to save those who are lost. For this reason, no matter how we celebrate, we celebrate in spirit together.
“…walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call— one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.” Ephesians 4:1-6