Christmas in Muslim Africa

“For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given…and His name will be called Wonderful…”

Christmas season in the Sahel region of West Africa was usually rough on our family. Being away from our family and our own traditions was hard, and dragging out the miserable little plastic Christmas tree didn’t help much. The needles, what was left of them, looked sort of real, but they just smelled like closet mold-no fresh evergreen scent here.

Living in a Muslim area, we discovered Christmas was almost a clandestine ritual practiced by only a handful of pilgrims. Almost, that is, except for the fact that traders knew the season was good for making money…prices doubled, even tripled during Christmas. Food and fuel “shortages” developed as the time for the holiday meal drew near. One holiday dinner the five of us gathered around a skinny chicken, some overripe tomatoes, and lukewarm orange soda. But Jesus came and joined us anyway.

In this fairly depressing environment, one year we ran across the carved nativity scene for sale in a market stall. In it there appeared the holy family, the magi, and a few animals. What was precious to our hearts was that they were all African, wearing native dress; Mary with a lovely Yoruba headdress and skirt wrap; Joseph wearing an agbada with its glorious embroidery; the magi as tribal elders decked-out in their finery, carrying their goat tail fly whisks; all of them admiring the newborn baby, surrounded by a couple of curious goats and a few chickens. This little scene said it all – unto us (all of us) a child is born Emmanuel, God with us! Even in Africa!

Father, I pray for missionaries who are away from home during this Christmas season…

By: Bill Kieselhorst, former missionary and regional coordinator to Africa