While you and your friends may not be journeying to West Africa for Christmas this year, the yuletide spirit is nevertheless alive and well throughout western Africa. For many, Christmas is a time for giving gifts, splurging on treats, listening to carollers, attending masquerades, preparing feasts, enjoying family outings at the beach and showing others how much they are appreciated. Religious diversity is strong in many of Africa’s western countries, and even though the majority of the populations in some of these countries may not attend mass, most everyone will use the time to enjoy the company of friends and family. Families decorate their homes, prepare favorite dishes and take part in cultural events such as festivals and parades. We found three countries in particular that we would love to visit during the holiday season.
December marks the harvest season for one of Ghana’s largest crops, cocoa. With a little extra money coming in from the harvest, families splurge on simple gifts, sweets and holiday treats. Small groups of carolling kids wearing masks come up to each door while beating drums. They sing and dance until change is dropped in each of their boxes and then they move on to the next house. Decorations are hung on the fronts of houses and stores several weeks before Christmas and theatrical plays are performed throughout December. On Christmas day, fufu (a fluffy dough made of cassava and plantain flour) is served with roasted goat, peanut soup and okra.
Masquerade dances are what everyone looks forward to for Christmas in Nigeria. While there are numerous cultures, languages, traditions and religious beliefs in Nigeria, most everyone seems to come together to watch and take part in masquerade dances during Christmas. Completely covered in colorful costumes and wide-eyed masks, performers dance enthusiastically and fling their bodies around a central arena or open street. They twirl and leap with such speed and grace that it looks as if they are going to peel gravity from the earth. Christmas is also a time for citizens to travel to see loved ones and to reflect on the good things that have happened throughout the year. Jollof rice, fried chicken and cabbage salad are on the menu for Christmas dinner and new clothes are everyone’s favorite gifts.
For a warm Christmas in the sun, head to Gambia, where you’ll find beaches, bbq, tinsel and Christmas festivals. Stop by Kombos and Greater Banjul and watch the Fanal parade, where small bamboo boats are filled with candles or electric lights, covered in white paper and paraded through town. Fantastic costumed dances also take place this time of year throughout the area. Don’t miss the masked acrobatics that may come through town as well. When your stomach starts to grumble, look for an eatery that serves Ebeh, a stunning concoction of smoked fish, clams or small oysters, fish eggs, crab meat, and more.