AS over 2.2 billion Christians worldwide gear up to mark one of their most important days of the year - the birth of Christ - one of the key traditions which makes the day for many is the meal they eat in celebration.
Christmas - and New Year - will not be celebrated in Somalia this year, after the government in Mogadishu just banned the activities, saying they are against Islamic culture, and could also attract attacks from the jihadist militant group al-Shabaab.
But for the approximately 383million Christians in Africa, the day is filled with festivities and though, for many, the dishes they eat aren’t too different from what they would eat on a special occasion - the time and care taken to prepare them is.
In Egypt about 15% of people are Christians and most Egyptian Christians belong to the Coptic Orthodox Church and have unique traditions for Christmas. Their Christmas Day however isn’t celebrated on December 25 but on January 7. The Coptic month leading to Christmas is called “Kiahk” and for the 43 days before Christmas they have a special fast where they basically eat a vegan diet.
They don’t eat anything containing products that come from animals (including chicken, beef, milk and eggs). This is called “The Holy Nativity Fast”. On Coptic Christmas Eve ( January 6), Coptic Christians go to church for a special service and when that’s over they have a Christmas meal which contains all the things they couldn’t eat during the advent fast!
One popular course if ‘Fata’ a lamb soup which contains bread, rice, garlic and boiled lamb meat.
Only in Mauritius can you indulge in a Christmas cuisine that draws upon Chinese, Indian, French and Creole influences. Fish features heavily in the Christmas feast and “Vindaye poisson” (or fish vindaloo) is a traditional dish that is enjoyed. The major component that makes this dish so delicious is the acidity coming from the vinegar. It is eaten hot served over cooked rice or accompanied by bread and a fresh carrot salad.
For many Kenyans their best memory of Christmas day will be goat. Every December – just around Christmas – my old man bundled us into the car and drove to the village to spend time with the grandfolks. Something about knowing where you came from. Fun times. We got to see farm animals. And learnt how to swim in raging brown river water. On Christmas mornings a goat was usually slaughtered. A fat he-goat. There was always a guy in the village tasked with slaughtering this goat, skinning it and hanging it upside down. Then it would be roasted or stewed and we would all have a big feast.
During any celebration in Cape Verde the most consumed dishes are couscous and Cachupa, which is considered to be a national dish - though the recipe can vary from island to island. A type of cassoulet or stew made with beans, corn, cassava, sweet potato, pork, chorizo and tuna,cachupa is the ideal “poor man’s dish” - cheap to make, packed with protein and filling.
Democratic Republic of Congo
Christmas Eve is very important in the Democratic Republic of Congo with Churches having big musical evenings and long nativity plays. On Christmas day, the meals are large and long with saka saka, made form cassava greens, a popular feature.
Christmas is huge in Mozambique and trees are hung with homemade decorations like doves and crosses. Mozambicans who live near the coast will not have turkey but will eat mountains of garlic prawns or prawns peri peri - a very hot sauce made with red chilli peppers
The Christmas meal in South Africa is more Western - either turkey, roast beef, mince pies or suckling pig with yellow rice & raisins and vegetables, followed by Christmas Pudding or a traditional South African desert called Malva Pudding.
Everyday dishes eaten in Nigeria also feature highly in the festive seasons. The different ethnic regions have their favourite dishes, which are most definitely also served during the Christmas season. These vary from one or all of these; Jollof rice, fried rice, pounded yam and lots of different snacks and small chops. The main difference, however, is that special ingredients and preparation go into Christmas food.
The Ethiopian Orthodox Church, one of the world’s oldest, observes Christmas on January 7 - like the ones in Egypt - following a calendar similar to the Coptic Church. The 40 days prior to Christmas are observed with a vegan fast.
This makes the Christmas feast, when it finally arrives, that much more of a party. The traditional dish for Ethiopians on Christmas Day is doro wot, which features pieces of meat swimming in a rich red sauce. Unlike the doro wot eaten the rest of the year, the Christmas dish is prepared with a slaughtered rooster rather than a hen, carved into exactly 12 pieces, representing the 12 disciples. Then come the 12 hard-boiled eggs, which some say symbolise eternity.
Domada, widely considered to be a national dish of Gambia, is a delicious groundnut stew, often eaten without meat but on Christmas a little chicken or beef is added. In its simplest versions, made without meat, it is basically a peanut sauce.