The Christmassy spirit starts after the 15th of December when you will start to hear the first carols on the street. Many choirs from different churches start going from one house to another, singing Christmas carols, bringing the Christmas spirit and blessing while collecting voluntary contributions in return. Many times, especially at the beginning of this period, choirs from different churches would gather and perform in a certain church, preparing their special repertoire and impressing the crowd. Carolling lasts till Christmas eve or maybe a day or two less.
Another tradition is building a “fannal” or paper boat, which is made with long bamboo sticks and decorative paper, usually beautified with some candles or electric lights. It can be up to 10 m long and is used for a parade, accompanied by some drummers, singers and dancers, spreading good energy and a holiday spirit.
Churches and also people usually share gifts, especially amongst those in need. They would provide clothes or food, mostly oil, rice, sugar, onion, and soap, for washing clothes. Sometimes, the church will decide to help a hospital or orphanage. It is all about sharing and helping one another.
In the times before Christmas, there will also be many trade fairs organised, where creative individuals and business owners will sell their products; there will be face painting and other fun activities for the kids, all accompanied by some festive music.
Everybody goes to the church on Christmas eve since there is usually a long and beautiful program included in the Christmas eve mass. There would be carolling of the different church choirs. Depending on the church, the program would end at 10 pm and sometimes even after midnight. After the mass, the celebration begins. Even though it is mostly at home, with family members or a smaller group of relatives, the party is still going. There is a lot of dancing, singing and especially food. The host has to prepare plenty of dishes to satisfy all the guests and members on this special day. If there is too much liquid Christmas spirit during the celebration, there will be cow foot pepper soup waiting for anyone to cool the head and continue with the celebration, which can end up at three or even 5 o'clock in the morning!
The next day there would be a morning mass. After that, families would go home to prepare Christmas lunch. Sometimes relatives are invited as well. One of the beloved Christmas dishes is pork mbahal, which is salted pork with rice. The secret is to leave the pork in the salt to marinate for more than 12 hours and add some smoked fish to the recipe for extra flavour. You would also find many delicious desserts on the table, such as cake, banana bread or rice bread.
Do you want to celebrate your Christmas in the Gambia?
Check out our EVENTS section or contact us to get information about the Christmas mass programmes and more!