Christmas is celebrated in Cameroon on 25 December, like in many parts of the world. The special Christmas traditions and customs, foods, gifts and all the related activities make it the most popular festive season.
The Christmas season in Cameroon's capital Yaoundé starts in the first week of December with songs blaring from radios, TV, shops and other commercial areas. Suddenly the city becomes animated. New shops open their doors and shopping centres become more crowded, especially the shops selling toys, clothes, shoes and all the Christmas accessories like Christmas trees, lights, balls, ribbons etc.
Most people prefer to do their shopping early because the prices increase as the days pass. They usually buy clothes, shoes, gifts, Christmas trees and ornaments, and everything that will be needed to make the season beautiful. Only food is bought in the nick of time. The working hours of many shops are modified so that they will stay open till late.
Decoration is an integral part of celebrations, with the Christmas tree representing the symbol of the season. Everybody wants to have it and everybody makes efforts to buy a real Christmas tree. In rural areas, people usually replace it by palm trees. Houses are decorated at least two weeks before Christmas. There is not a typical model of decoration. Everyone decorates his/her house according to personal taste and financial resources. Most of the time, you will see Christmas trees having a star on top with colourful lights, tinsels, balls and several hand-crafted pictures. Even garden trees are often decorated with Christmas lights.
Churches are decorated on Christmas Eve with flowers, green plants as well as Christmas trees. A crèche is always displayed inside, showing figures of Mary and Joseph praying over the little infant Jesus in the stable.
Christmas decoration will stay up until 12 or 15 days after the feast.
Prayers and services
For Christians, Christmas begins with the Advent which is a season of preparation. Christians will spend all four weeks of Advent doing special prayers and singing Christmas songs. These prayers and songs help them getting ready to receive the little infant Jesus to come.
There are several Christmas Eve services at the churches. Many people like the midnight church service best. It is particularly impressive as Christmas hymns are performed and Nativity sketches are played. Outside the churches, one can hear children shouting "Joyeux Noël" (Merry Christmas) to everybody. In return, people will give them a gift, very often small amounts of money.
On Christmas Day, all the churches hold services again. This time, more children can be seen at the churches. They will seize the opportunity to carry their Christmas presents, to wear their new clothes and their new shoes.
In the weeks leading up to Christmas, greeting cards will be sent out to family members, relatives and friends. Giving gifts is another tradition connected to Christmas celebrations.
Children are convinced that "Père Noël" (Father Christmas) is the one to bring them presents. Nowadays, most children love hi-tech toys. They ask for electronic toys, game boy, computer or play stations, in addition to traditional gifts such as balls, dolls, puppets, bicycles, clothes, shoes, sweets, chocolates, and so much more.
Gifts are not placed systematically under the Christmas tree. They are often hidden somewhere and distributed to the children on Christmas Eve while they are sleeping, so that they will discover them in the early morning.
Christmas is also a season for enjoying delicious food and exquisite drinks. Family members come from all over the country and have Christmas meal together. Many people invite close neighbours to join them. There is no typical food exclusively reserved for Christmas, except a cake called "la bûche de Noël".
Christmas meal is usually served at midday. The dishes usually include fish (cooked over embers or in tomato sauce), beef, chicken, goat, pig, Ndolè (a mixture of green vegetables with beef, smoked or fresh fish or shrimps) rice, potatoes, plantains, yams, salad, bread, sweets, snacks, cakes and of course many drinks with alcohol for the grown-ups and juices for the children.
After the meal, the children play together while the adults listen to music and relax.
SOS Children has been working in Cameroon since the 1990s and cares for children at the SOS Children's Village Mbalmayo which is about 45km from the capital Yaoundé. Over 5,000 children and families have been supported by SOS Children at this village and in the community through outreach programmes.
If you would like to help a child have the chance of a family life and a happy childhood why not sponsor a child this Christmas?