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At present SOS Children's Villages supports over 23,000 people in The Gambia through 2 Children’s Villages, a youth home, 2 Nursery Schools, 2 primary schools, an SOS Vocational Training Centre, a Family Strengthening Programme and a Medical Centre. … more about our charity work in The Gambia

Celebrating Christmas the Gambian way

In the Gambia, Christmas is a time of celebration for Christians and Muslims alike
In the Gambia, Christmas is a time of celebration for Christians and Muslims alike

Sometimes Christmas seems to be inescapable! But what does the festive season look like in a country where 90% of the population is Muslim? In the Gambia, Christmas isn't the ubiquitous, month-long celebration it is here. However, that doesn't mean it's not a time for celebration – and not just for Christians, but Muslims too!

Gambian streets may not be lined with decorations during the festive season, but at Bakoteh Village, Christmas is a time for all children to create happy memories for life.

Christmas with a difference

12-year-old Fatoumatta is Muslim, but she enjoys Christmas as much as her Christian friends. “I... visit my friends who are Christian 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... In the end, everybody dances until late and both Christians and Muslims enjoy themselves!”

Children decorating the Christmas tree at Bakoteh Village
Time to deck the halls of Bakoteh Village!

For 11-year-old Collin, masquerades are the highlight of his Christmas. “The music, all the different types of masquerades and many other merry things... bring both Christians and Muslim[s]... together.”

Collin is Christian, but the masquerades are a common Gambian tradition which bring people of all faiths together to celebrate their shared heritage. A popular masquerade, called “Hunting”, stems from the traditions of the Sierra Leonean “Aku” tribe. The leader wears two horns, and is followed by children and adults who dance together while playing local drums and shaking tamarind shells. This might not sound very festive to you and me, but for Gambians – Muslim and Christian alike – it is part of Christmas!

A creative Christmas

Do you remember those wonderful pre-Christmas schooldays, when you turned up the festive music, stuffed yourself silly with mince pies and made decorations for the school tree?

At the SOS school in Bakoteh, the children are celebrating by writing poems. Monjama calls hers “Joyful Christmas”, and it certainly gets us in the festive spirit!

Christmas! Christmas! Christmas!
You come and go,
Once in a year, yet
Bringing all the joy and happiness,
Love and laughter, too.

Father Christmas giving presents,
Children playing in the snow,
Christmas puddings baking all day long.
How I wish you merry Christmas
Will come every day.

Cook Christmas the Gambian way

Fed up of soggy sprouts and chewy turkey? Why not try Christmas the Gambian way with this tasty recipe? It's called chicken yassa and it's a delicacy across the Gambia and Senegal – plus it's easy to make!

Chicken yassa
Chicken yassa makes a wonderfully Gambian alternative to roast turkey (Photo: KVDP via Wikimedia Commons)

Serves: 4-6

Time: 30mins (plus 3 hrs marinading)


  • 4-6 chicken fillets, cut into pieces
  • 3 large sliced onions
  • 1 chilli (ideally hot!), cut into small pieces
  • The juice of 3 lemons
  • 5 tablespoons of peanut oil
  • 120ml water


  1. Make the marinade using the lemon juice, onions, chilli, 4 tablespoons of the peanut oil, plus salt and pepper. Marinade the chicken for at least 2 hours. Reserve the marinade when the chicken is ready.
  2. Heat a hot grill, remove the chicken from the marinade (keep the marinade), and grill the chicken until it is brown on both sides.
  3. Remove the onions from the marinade and saute them slowly in the remaining peanut oil until they are tender.
  4. Add the reserve marinade and when hot, add the chicken.
  5. Add the water and simmer for around 20 minutes over a low heat. Make sure the chicken is cooked.
  6. Serve hot with rice.

We hope you find this recipe as yummy as the children in Bakoteh Village do! If it's a success, why not email your pictures to ?

Feeling festive?

If our Gambian Christmas round-up has got you feeling festive, why not continue your Christmas celebrations with SOS Children by sending a free SOS eCard? Make a loved one smile with a Christmas gesture that really means something and help raise awareness of our work. Send a free eCard now...

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