Easter is a time to remember the crucifixion, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Like in other parts of the world, hundreds of millions of Christians in Africa celebrate their redemption during the Easter season. In the African continent, there are diverse and unique Easter traditions that are kept and passed from one generation to another.
Unlike the Western style of commemoration, Easter celebrations in Africa are characterized by a lot more communal rituals and activities. This is particularly in rural areas where households are more clustered. Africans are proud of their traditions and put effort to keep them alive. So, how do Africans celebrate Easter and what do they make of this season? Today, we explore Easter traditions that are common across Africa while highlighting their uniqueness and importance.
Common Easter traditions in Africa
Easter church service is the most significant activity for Christians in Africa. Generally, church services are held for four days, from the Thursday that comes immediately before Good Friday to Easter Sunday. These services, which are commonly referred to as Easter vigils by some Africans, are usually filled with different activities. These include singing hymns, praying, reading Bible verses that relate to Easter, and watching movies about Jesus’ death and resurrection.
Dressing is a huge part of Easter traditions in the African continent. Some Christians choose to wear black clothing on Good Friday’s church service to mourn the death of Jesus. Then, on Easter Sunday, they wear white clothes to symbolize resurrection. Others prefer to wear their best clothes throughout the Easter season, with some putting on African traditional dresses.
Prior to the Easter church services, some Christians decorate their churches with traditional clothes and images of Jesus’ death and resurrection. Also, church choirs practice Easter hymns, which they sing to congregants during the service. In some places, traditional dances are performed outside churches.
Before or after the church service, many Christians rush home to prepare celebration meals. However, some stay at places of worship preparing communal meals that people of all backgrounds and religions are welcome to join and celebrate.
Buying gifts for the family, friends, and people in need is a part of African Easter traditions. Most often, gifts are wrapped smartly before they are presented. During the Easter holiday, people living in urban settings often buy gifts for their spouses, families, and relatives in the rural areas. In some communities, rejecting a gift is considered an insult.
Gifts are exchanged during family get-togethers and reunion parties. Parents buy various gifts for their children such as new clothes, toys, cakes, sweets, and chocolate. In some African cultures, people collect and distribute Easter eggs to kids in underprivileged schools. This helps to draw everyone into the celebration and demonstrate the true spirit of Easter.
Also, well-wishers donate gifts and foodstuffs to needy families, single mothers, orphans, and windows. Furthermore, some Christians as well as organized groups in different countries visit the sick in their homes and hospitals and present them gifts.
Family Parties and Get-Togethers
The fact that the Easter days fall on a long weekend offers a perfect opportunity for families and loved ones to gather. African families maintain their close-knit nature by visiting each other and spending time together. So, organizing family parties and get-togethers is one of the most common Easter traditions in many parts of Africa.
After months or even years of being apart, parents gather their children and grandchildren during easter to interact and bond. During family parties, special meals are prepared and family members eat together. When it comes to drinks, some African families prefer to prepare and take their local brew.
This holiday offers enough time for people from different regions to travel and gather. Like other long holidays, the Easter season is characterized by a lot of meat-eating. However, unlike in the West where the choice of meat is turkey, Africans feast on whatever meat they can afford. While each African community has its traditional cuisine, Easter meals feature mainly rice, chapatis, veggies, and meat.
Visiting the Beach
The Easter holiday usually falls between the months of March and April. These months are reasonably warm in most parts of Africa. So, friends and families prefer to celebrate Easter at the beach. Thus, traveling to the beach is among the Easter traditions that are practiced by both non-religious and staunch Christians.
It is not surprising to find many beaches across Africa packed with both locals and visitors. The coastal cities and towns fill up with different festivities, ranging from concerts to water sports. While some people engage in beach swimming, sailing, and diving, others prefer to sit back and relax as they feel the breeze and watch ocean waves.
So, beaches offer a relaxed feast for both families and friends. In most Christian African countries, the food business at the beach always booms during the Easter holiday. This is because a lot of people from the upcountry visit the coast. Consequently, many people seize the opportunity to organize weddings and other ceremonies.
African Easter Traditions by Country
Like mentioned earlier, Easter traditions vary depending on the region of Africa you find yourself. To further appreciate this discussion, let’s take a look at Easter traditions from three different regions in Africa.
During Easter, Nigerian churches, parks, and city streets are packed with people. Right from Palm Sunday all the way to Easter Sunday, many churches, as well as Christian homes, are decorated with palm branches. Also, Nigeria is one of the African nations where festival vibes feature during Easter.
For example, in Southern Nigeria, the Igbo people showcase their distinctive masquerade dance—Muo. Young men perform the dance wearing colorful costumes to celebrate their ancestral spirits.
While South Africa has many churches that follow Western traditions, the country also has a large number of Christians who practice African Easter traditions. During the Easter church services at African Zionist Churches, Christians perform the Mkhukhu traditional dance that involves a lot of foot stamping.
This practice is common, particularly in the KwaZulu-Natal and Limpopo regions. Some authorities have cited that the dance is unsuitable for Easter because it is overly Africanized. But pro-Mkhukhu people argue that the dance is a part of South African traditions that existed long before the coming of Christianity in Africa.
Kenya also brings different forms of entertainment and feasts into the Easter season. Most cuisines in Kenyan cities and towns feature Nyama Choma, spicy grilled meat. This is usually accompanied by a kind of maize flour porridge known as Ugali.
In the Kenyan capital, Nairobi, some families visit the Nairobi National Park while others go hiking and picnicking at Karura Forest. The coastal city, Mombasa, witnesses peak times during the Easter holiday. People from across the country tour the coast during this period. Here, most have fun at the various beaches dotted along the Kenyan coast.
Although many Christians in Africa observe fasting prior to Easter, Ethiopians lead in this practice. Easter, which is called Fasika in Ethiopia, marks the end of 55 days of fasting. During the fasting period, Christians do not consume any meat or dairy product. Instead, they take one vegetarian meal per day. Fasika is one of the longstanding Easter traditions in Africa. While it is similar to Lent in Western churches, it is one week longer. This is because partakers consider Jesus’ death and resurrection as more important than His birth.
The Easter season is very significant in Africa not just to Christians but also to non-religious Africans. Christians use this period to commemorate their redemption through the death and resurrection of Jesus. To the non-religious, it is a time to relax, reflect, and celebrate with their loved ones. However, the Easter traditions practiced in African give a new meaning to this season. If you want to experience these traditions in a more practical way, make a point of visiting Africa during Easter.