Christmas in The Gambia
Christmas in The Gambia is a good lesson of friendship and tolerance. Three children help you see how this special day is celebrated in a 90% Muslim country.
Christmas in The Gambia
With only 9 % of the population being Christians and 90 % being Muslims, Christmas is not one of the major celebrations in the Gambia, and unlike in many other countries, streets are not filled with colourful lights and decorations around Christmas time. However, this special Christian celebration brings together Christians and Muslims to share joyful moments and reinforce friendships, just like Muslim celebrations.
Three students from different religious background attending the SOS School in Bakoteh give you a glance on what Christmas means to them.
Preparing for Christmas with Adama, an eleven-year-old Christian girl
Christmas brings joy to all families! In preparation for Christmas, we clear all bushes in the compound and around, and we trim all our flowers. We sometimes change furniture or repair the old ones and polish them, we repaint our houses, inside and outside. We also buy new curtains and bed sheets for the house. Our parents usually take us to buy new clothes and shoes and our relatives living abroad send us money and clothes just in time for Christmas.
The day before Christmas, girls plait their hair and we decorate our houses with Christmas decorations. We put jumping lights and colourful balls on our Christmas tree and we send greetings cards to our friends, relatives and loved ones.
In The Gambia, Christmas is a very pleasant day. On that day, I like to go to church and sing Christmas carols. It's a day where everybody feels happy and joyful!
Christmas from the eyes of Fatoumatta, a twelve-year-old Muslim girl
Christmas is celebrated on 25 December every year.
(From a Muslim perspective the fact that a celebration occurs every year on the same day is unusual, as all major Muslim feasts depend on the moon and are never on the same day from one year to the other).
Before Christmas Day, Christians start to prepare themselves. Some will buy clothes, some will plait their hair and some will make their house neat and tidy. When Christmas is coming, some Christians tell their Muslim friends about it, so that they can enjoy it as well.
On Christmas Day, Christians go to church and pray. From there, they go home and cook delicious food for their families and invite their friends for dinner. On this special day, they would also visit their relatives and friends. Children also visit their friends and invite them to their parties at night. Some Muslims also celebrate Christmas with their relatives, friends and neighbours.
On Christmas day, some Christians go to the beach, some go to a hotel and some go to restaurants and bars.
I myself visit my friends who are Christians on Christmas Day, as they invite me and my family to attend their party. Once we arrive in their house, they welcome us inside where everything is neat and tidy. They usually play Christmas carols and dance.
On Christmas Day, some people also turn on their radio and dance. Some play Viviane (a very famous female singer from Senegal) and dance. In the end, everybody dances until late and both Christians and Muslims enjoy themselves!
Eleven-year-old Collin - a Christian boy - shares his Christmas feelings
I always feel really happy on Christmas Day, when all the Christian families gather together and have fun.
The music, all the different types of masquerades and many other merry things taking place on this day that brings both Christians and Muslim brothers together is really unique. This shows how peaceful and tolerant my country, The Gambia, is.
(Such masquerades are local traditions surfacing at various festive occasions, including Christmas Day. One of them, rooted in the traditions of the Sierra Leonean Aku tribe, is called "Hunting": The person leading the group wears a mask with two horns. He is followed by children and adults who dance, play local drums, shake tamarind shells and ask people on the streets for money. In "Kumpo", a masquerade rooted in the traditions of the Jola tribe, the leading person wears a costume which is - from head to toe - made out of leaves).
I am always happy when I go to my village to see my friends. We go together from one ceremony to the other, sometimes running because we are being chased by masquerades. On this special day, we also go around the village playing, forming groups and having all sorts of competitions.
For me, 25 December is really the happiest and merriest day of the year!
SOS Children has been working in The Gambia since 1981 and has two unique children's villages at Bakoteh and Basse caring for 200 children and a further 9,500 in the community through projects such as SOS Schools, Medical Centres and Social Centres.