By Larry M. Sellers
Christmas brings many warm and powerful images to mind. But those images vary widely according to where you live. For some, Christmas evokes images of snowy winter scenes with caroling, eggnog, gifts, and family. Others may picture palm trees in tropical heat, with sweet juice and dancing with the church family. What is common to believers around the world is the sense of great joy and celebration that is a part of every Christmas season.
For African Christians, Christmas is indeed a time of great celebration and joy when the church gathers together for an all-night service. Beginning by 10:00 PM on Christmas Eve, and ending around 6:00 AM on Christmas day, it’s a full night of singing, traditional group dancing, skits, poetry recitation, praying, testimonies, and, of course, a rousing sermon! Children present skits, memory verses, and songs that they have been learning throughout the year in Sunday school. The youth perform a lively and amusing drama, presenting how Christ makes a difference in the lives of young people. The women and men may also perform skits, share testimonies, or lead in prayer. Interspersed throughout the celebration are long periods of corporate prayer, with everyone fervently praying at the top of their lungs.
Dancing—the most authentic African expression of community joy and exuberance—is also an indispensable part of a Christmas celebration in Côte d’Ivoire. These are not well-rehearsed performances, but rather spontaneous movements of the whole church, usually formed in concentric circles, with the children inside, women in the middle (with babies strapped to their backs), and men forming the outside circle. They dance in line, one behind another, with natural rhythmic steps to the sound of balaphones and native instruments, such as xylophones, with strong yet mellow voices, while someone sings a line and then the congregation repeats it as they dance. As the song progresses, the tempo increases and the dancing becomes more energetic, until everyone breaks out in laughter and returns to their seats in exhaustion! This can go on for three hours or more, broken by times of prayer, skits, poems, or recited verses—all leading up to the Christmas sermon. Throughout the night, people move in and out, exhausted children lie on the floor to sleep for a while, and ushers bring cups of coffee to the joyful participants. This lively scene is typical of African community life at home and at church—always spontaneous and always moving!
By sunrise, everyone is ready for a break. After some rest, a shower, and change of clothes, the people return to the church for an agape feast, an African-style potluck dinner. The women in brightly colored African dress are the first to come. They begin cutting vegetables, stirring huge pots of sauce and rice, and preparing plates to serve. Then everyone is served on makeshift benches outdoors. Some may linger into the afternoon, and the youth help to wash dishes as the adults talk and the children play.
The rest of Christmas day is marked by people, wearing newly tailored outfits exploding with vibrant color, visiting their neighbors, friends and family and bestowing blessings for the New Year. This celebration continues throughout the following week, culminating on New Year’s Day. New Year’s gifts of coins, food, or candy are more typical than Christmas gifts. But for Christians in Cote d’Ivoire, Christmas is all about the church gathering together in great joy and celebration of the arrival of our Savior, Christ the Lord.
Larry and LeAnn Sellers are your career missionaries serving in Côte d’Ivoire. If you would like to support their ministry financially, you may contribute online by clicking here. Or checks can be mailed to Church of God Ministries, PO Box 2420, Anderson, IN 46018-2420. Write Project 42.10074 in the memo line to assign your gift accordingly.