For the season, here you can get a window in to the Christmas traditions observed in Kenya that have been observed for decades and won’t be going away anytime soon.
1. Back to the Village
For most city dwellers in Kenya, Christmas offers them a perfect opportunity to visit their folks in the countryside. So, if it’s your first time in a city, such as Nairobi, Kenya’s capital, do not be surprised to find the usually jam-packed streets empty on Christmas Day.
Kenyans customarily start traveling to the village at the beginning of December to spend the entire month there until after the New Year’s celebrations.
In fact, many people consider it a taboo not to visit their rural homes during Christmas.
Due to the high number of travelers during this period, public transport operators usually make a killing by raising their prices.
2. Special Meals & Alcohol
Christmas in Kenya presents an opportunity for people, especially in the rural areas, to eat special meals that are otherwise considered expensive under normal conditions.
Therefore it is common to find families going on shopping sprees a few days before the D-day. Others spare their fattest goats, chickens, and cows for Christmas festivities.
Millions of liters of alcohol are also drowned during this season. While in the urban centers people go to bars and restaurants to enjoy their favorite drinks, in the rural areas people usually prepare gallons of their local brew, which is enjoyed as families reunite.
3. Night Vigils
On the eve of Christmas, most churches in Kenya hold night vigils as worshipers celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ. Some churches even go to the extent of dramatizing the whole story of the birth of Christ.
The night vigil, locally known as “Kesha,” is eagerly anticipated by the young people. Catholic churches habitually ring bells at midnight to mark the birth of Christ, while worshipers cheer and sing praise songs to mark the start of the much-anticipated day.
4. Decorations & Photographs
In the urban settings, businesses are usually decorated with Christmas colors, and they entertain their customers with seasonal Christmas carols.
In the village, people wear new clothes and hire photographers to capture every special moment of the day.
This is important because Christmas is considered the best opportunity for family get-togethers.
5. Circumcision & Rites of Passage
Due to the long school holidays during Christmas, most Kenyan communities use the break as an opportunity to circumcise their boys.
In the Bukusu community, young male initiates are taken to the river at 3 a.m., where their bodies are smeared with mud – a process that is locally referred to as “khulonga.” The practice is considered to be a form of anesthesia and a way of cleansing the initiates.
On their way from the river, a traditional song called “sioyoya” is sung to which the boys must dance until they arrive at the circumcision site.
Women are not allowed anywhere near the site as it is believed to be a taboo. After the cut, the boys are taken to their respective houses, locally known as “likombe,” where they will stay until they heal.
Most initiation ceremonies take one to two weeks, after which the initiates are given time to relax and heal.
Since female genital mutilation is illegal in Kenya, girls are taken through other forms of initiation to mark the rite of passage. They usually gather in designated places where the elderly women of the community teach them the tenets of womanhood.