Christmas in Kenya

Family celebrations honor the birth of the baby Jesus.

by Jolene Hodder, Lt. Colonel –

Caroling on Kabete Compound includes cookie distribution to neighbors [by Jessica Hodder].

With approximately 88.5 percent of the Kenyan population Christian, Christmas is actively celebrated throughout the country. As the shepherds journeyed to Bethlehem after receiving the news of Christ’s birth, millions of Kenyans living in urban centers travel to their homes in the rural areas for the occasion. Since most do not own vehicles, the roads are filled with all sorts of public transportation.

Once home on the family “shamba” (farm), celebrations begin—with lots of eating. Utensils are optional. Chickens, sheep, goats, and cows are slaughtered by the thousands. In fact, the family will husband the animals for at least 6 months just to prepare for this special day.

As in other parts of the world, people gather in churches to pray, and all-night prayer vigils and celebrations on Christmas Eve are common. Churches are decorated with balloons, ribbons, flowers, greenery, and sometimes even the branches of trees. As expected, everyone wears his or her best attire.

You won’t find many commercial signs of Christmas in Kenya. Holiday lights adorn only the commercial buildings in the capital of Nairobi. If you are lucky you may see a Santa Claus or two, and shopping for gifts is rare. If a child does get a gift, it is usually clothing or a new pair of shoes for school. However, families will often choose to purchase a gift for baby Jesus, which is later distributed to the needy by the church.

While I do miss some of our Christmas traditions back home, it is refreshing to simply focus on the Christ child.

Sikukuu njema ya Krismasi
(“Merry Christmas” in Swahili)

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