African Leadership Academy’s Festive Rituals

December 19th, 2018

School’s out! By the time you read this, most of our students and staffulty will be in the bosom of family and friends, celebrating the Festive Season. Given the diversity of African Leadership Academy’s community, it’s only to be expected that these holidays will take different shapes for different students.

Here's how our community will be celebrating these holidays...


Lobna Jebniani (Tunisia, Year 2)

This time of year it’s winter in Tunisia, and always raining, so most of our activities are indoors, like visiting family members and ice skating – but mostly we take the opportunity to chill and enjoy time off school and exams.

Last year I started what promises to be a whole new tradition for me: celebrating Christmas with my host family in Michigan. It snows, and there are nice Christmas vibes… we go skiing and it’s really amazing to just be there and spend time with the family and extended family – and also with friends (I have a lot of friends in Michigan, as I spent a year there as an exchange student).

I’m not going this year due to the short break, but I look forward to definitely doing this again.

Mpiwa Gwindi (Zimbabwe, Year 1)

Our family tradition is just to get together; we usually have extended family – all the units coming together, at our homesteads. One is Madziwa, about 2 hours away from where we live, the other in Chiweshe, which is about 1.5 hours away. We have our sekurus (grandparents and great-grandparents) with us, so it’s a strong ancestral vibe.

Last year, I played the mbira, which is an ancestral instrument, and they were quite shocked to see a woman, a girl, playing – and not so badly, either. I think it’s a great way to make sure that you’re still in touch with your culture. There tends to be a lot of cultural celebration between urban and rural communities, so December for my family is a time to be in touch with our tradition.

Personally, I do something different as well: I live on a farm outside Harare, surrounded by a community of people in a different financial bracket. I have ease of access to education and food. So every December we do a Christmas giveaway of clothes, shoes and toys. Last year it was quite nice, as my friends brought a lot of things. I’m thinking of taking it even further, and seeding prosperity in them: not just donating clothes, but sewing machines, so they can be productive and innovative in their community.

DID YOU KNOW? Though Senegal is a largely (about 95%) Muslim population, the country is a secular state that celebrates all religious holidays. Christmas is no exception – and the capital city, Dakar is lit for the occasion, with even mosques decorated with Christmas lights.

Mpho Montsho (South Africa, Year 1)

My family (my parents, my three siblings and I) always go on holiday for about a week, anywhere in SA that my parents decide. Last year it was in Cape Town, and we’ll be going there again this year. My eldest brother doesn’t live at home, but he always comes home for the holidays, as we always spend Christmas at home. After church we have a braai – and that’s when friends and relatives join in. The night before, we all help prepare for the feast. One other thing I normally do, is to give my mom a leg and foot massage; I have been doing it for years, since I was in boarding school. It’s the first thing I do on the night I get home – that’s how we bond.

Aziz Medhioub  (Tunisia Year 1)

It’s winter back home now, so we spend New Year’s Eve together as a family – that’s a sacred space for us at this time of year. We have a big feast and reflect on the year. Usually, before New Year’s, we go on a short holiday, always in a different city each year, to discover random places – and then we’re blown away by how cool the place is in general. We go to a hotel to rest a bit, just have fun and try different foods.

For myself, I usually also do a community project – I’m currently working on a project to help people to apply to summer programs, and this year I will hold a workshop to promote that.

DID YOU KNOW? Fanal Parades, or the Lantern Festival, are a huge feature of Christmas in The Gambia. Fanals are large boat-shaped lanterns pulled on wheels or carried from house to house after the Christmas church service. Donations are gathered that contribute to a large Christmas party after.

Numay Soibi-Harry (Nigeria, Year 2)

We do celebrate Christmas, usually with a big lunch. On Christmas Day, we usually go to the hospital and give gifts – we’ve been doing it for years, ever since I can remember. That’s after church, then we have lunch.  We normally have traditional foods then: always fried plantain, chicken, but it varies. Sometimes we have Chinese food, sometimes jollof rice or fried rice…

For me, having so many people around is the best; I don’t get to see my cousins throughout the year, so it’s really nice. At nights, we have family game nights and karaoke. 

Mohamed Amir Touil ( Tunisia, Year 1)

Twenty or thirty years ago we never celebrated or even knew of Christmas in Tunisia. Now it has become a real tradition, but it’s more of an economic thing – on Christmas day and New Year’s Eve, especially, all people go out, and spend a lot of money on food. It becomes really crazy – because it’s like a moment to celebrate the whole year.

Our family all gather at my grandmother’s house on New Year’s Eve, and mostly watch TV – they do non-stop festive programming to catch viewers, usually with late night shows talk shows and live music performances. Some people in Tunisia do not recognize Christmas Day, or even New Year’s Eve – they see it as a Western concept or tradition. I’m not expecting anything to change, but I expect people to be more open, I’d like to see more Christians in Tunisia publically celebrating. I want Tunisia to recognize this occasion for them with bigger celebrations in public spaces, like we do for Ramadan. 

DID YOU KNOW? Coptic Christians of Egypt and Ethiopia celebrate Christmas on January 7, in observance of the Julian Calendar, which predates the Gregorian calendar most of us use today. An Ethiopian Christmas, better known as Ganna, typically begins with a day of fasting, followed by church services and a feast.


Fatou Kine Gueye (Senegal, Year 1)

We don’t celebrate Christmas with a tree or gifts, but during this holiday time our family gathers at my uncle’s house, and we have a big meal, with lot of food, music, talk and dance. We like dancing in my family, it’s important. We celebrate Christmas and the New Year with dancing. Sometimes we go out to eat and the younger ones go to nightclub, but wverything that we do is linked to dance, to party.

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This is an article from the ALA Journey Journal – the blog that tracks our 50 year journey to develop 6000 leaders. Visit the Journal here.

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