It’s less than a month until Christmas and with the arrival of December this week, the festive season is truly upon us. So, to help get you in the festive spirit after a tough year, in this week’s blog, we’ll be exploring how Christmas is celebrated in Cameroon, from decorations to food, gifts to music.
How is Christmas celebrated in Cameroon?
Christmas is one of the most important days of the year in Cameroon. There is a large Christian population in the country, around 70% of people in Cameroon are Christian, so it’s a widely celebrated event throughout the nation. The tradition of celebrating Christmas in Cameroon is a product of French and British influence from the country’s colonial past, and there are certainly similarities between Western and Cameroonian Christmas festivities. But when a country is as culturally and geographically diverse as Cameroon, you can guarantee that celebrations will be utterly unique.
Due to the large population of Christians in Cameroon, celebrations in many communities are religious or spiritual in nature. The act of going to church is of major importance during Christmas in Cameroon, and many take part in several services over the festive period, from carol singing to a candlelit service on Christmas Eve. Children get a week of school holiday before Christmas, and lots of families seize the opportunity to reunite and celebrate by having a day out to places like the zoo or botanic gardens.
Cameroon’s unique Christmas decorations
Much like Christmas in the west, decorating can be a cause of huge excitement during the festive period in Cameroon. Many families rush to decorate areas in their communities with anything they can, from lights in their homes to candles and a nativity scene in local churches. The centrepiece decoration of many homes, though, is a Christmas tree and it comes with a Cameroonian twist. Although plastic evergreen-inspired Christmas trees are becoming more popular in the country, the traditional Christmas tree in Cameroon is the local Cypress tree which can be found decorated with banana leaf and orange ornaments.
Cameroonian Christmas feasts
No Christmas is complete without a festive feast. This is especially true for many celebrating Christmas in Cameroon, where it’s an opportunity for families to reunite and enjoy themselves over a delicious meal. As with their Christmas trees, the food served for Christmas dinner is uniquely Cameroonian.
The most common Christmas dinner you’re likely to find in Cameroon won’t include turkey, but chicken and the main bulk of the meal won’t be roast potatoes, but rice. Other dishes that are common at Christmas are fufu (a dough made out of plantain, cassava or yams), Achu soup (yellow soup made from cocoyam) and ndolé (a nut and ndoleh stew). While some western influences can be found in festive desserts like plum puddings eaten in Anglophone regions and Bûche de Noël (yule logs) in Francophone regions, in many communities, especially in rural areas, such delicacies can’t be afforded.
If you’d like to learn about some more delicious dishes from Cameroon, we’ve written a blog on 10 Mouthwatering Traditional Cameroonian Meals.
Music at Christmas in Cameroon
Music is at the heart of Cameroon as a nation, so it will come as no surprise that songs play a huge part in the festive experience for Cameroonians. Due to the religious importance of Christmas for many people in Cameroon, carol services are one of the major ways in which they celebrate. Many of the Christmas carols sung in Cameroon will be familiar to those in the west.
Others are carols that are specific to Cameroon, molded by their unique cultural history. Lots of Cameroonian carols are for children, so they can join in the celebrations like Shall We Go to Bethlehem. Many of these are call and response such as Jesus Christ is Born. O-Cocorico is a call and response Christmas song that children sing and dance in a mask during the festive season to get gifts and money from adults.
Christmas dresses: a Cameroonian tradition
Cameroon is also a country renowned for its fashion and it too plays a central role for Cameroonians at Christmas. Many dress in their best clothes for their celebratory services, meals and days out. As such, there’s a rush to buy stylish new outfits for the festive season. Because of this emphasis on fashion at Christmas in Cameroon, there is an important tradition at the heart of the festivities, where children are given an item of clothing as a gift. Christmas falls during the dry season in Cameroon, so a Christmas jumper wouldn’t be useful. Instead, many children receive a Christmas dress every year to celebrate the occasion.
Unfortunately, many families in impoverished communities can’t afford a Christmas dress each year. Instead, their situation may force them to spend their money on schooling, healthcare and food. If they can afford a dress, the gift will be an important and rare one: it may be the only item of clothing the child can get that year.
To help ensure that vulnerable children in Cameroon can be given such a gift this Christmas, a few weeks ago, Tamsin Clover set up a Christmas Dress fundraiser on GoFundMe. She’s now walked 35km and raised £100 for Children of Cameroon, which means that we’ll be able to give six wonderful dresses to our children, as well as a delicious Christmas meal! Thanks to Tamsin and all those who have donated, the children will have a very special Christmas this year.
We hope we’ve given you some Cameroonian inspiration for Christmas this year! If you want to discuss Christmas in Cameroon or our work, leave a comment below!