In most African families, Christmas plans start in the month of October when the mother or the father starts pointing out which chicken or which goat will be slaughtered on Christmas day. This chicken or goat is coddled to make it nice and fat for Christmas feasting. The news that somebody cannot afford chicken or goat on Christmas is met with great sadness. Even in the cities you will see chickens or goats tethered in yards awaiting the celebration of Christmas. The children are excited; the adults look forward to a day of no work and just going to church and relaxing with friends and lots of food.
The process of getting ready for Christmas and preparing the meal is not a chore, but a joy. Love is the major ingredient. One week before Christmas an African Hut (the traditional Christmas Crib in the form of a small African hut) is prepared in the sanctuary of the church. The tall shepherds with their cows and sheep portray a pastoral scene very close to the rural farming community. Bright red, green, and yellow African clothes hang from the ceiling. Long cords hold up rows of pictures and carols. The carved figures of Mary and Joseph are placed in the open hut, ‘tired” after their long journey from Nazareth. There is no Christmas tree like here in the United States. Instead, there is mango tree or palm oil tree or banana tree. Santa is nowhere to be found in the Congo.
In Africa, Christmas Eve is very important. Churches host big musical evenings. Many churches have at least five to six choirs and a nativity play. These plays last a very long time, starting at the beginning of the evening with the story of king Herod killing the baby boys. People taking part in the play like to show off their best acting skills and tend to go over the top. The birth of Jesus is timed to happen close to midnight and after that come the shepherds, the wise men and the slaughter of the innocents. The play normally finishes about 1:00 a.m. However, in some places there will be further singing until dawn.