Angola is a country where the diversity in natural resources competes with the diversity in its cultural phenomena. The symbiosis between the various social and cultural customs gives unity and identity to a people living within the geographical delimitations of a state called Angola. The unity never nullifies the peculiarities of each ethnic or tribal group.
|Native Angolan women travelling with
their children and their head-balanced cargo
Christmas is a Christian feast. Angolans only began celebrating Christmas after the arrival of Christian Missionaries in the 15th century. Presently, after more than 500 years of Christianity and colonization followed by over 30 years of independence, the celebration of Christmas has undergone various influences – from traditional African culture, popular Catholic traditions and from other Christian sects as well as secularism.
Though still Christian, the celebration of Christmas has assumed some other facets as it is now commemorated by both Christians and non-Christians. What unites both groups is the “family feast”. But because Angola is mainly a Christian country, the celebration still retains its special Christian qualities. It’s not only the feast of the family, but essentially the celebration of the “birth of the baby, Jesus”. It’s the birth of the infant who brings the family together.
Christmas in rural villages and towns
Christmas for most of the people in the countryside is the most-awaited feast; the preparation is done both materially and spiritually. It’s always preceded by spiritual exercises and pilgrimages to the Mission Churches. Materially, families usually save some money during the whole year to buy special foods for this feast – rice, pasta and other industrialized foods. In agricultural communities, some animals are reared to be slaughtered at Christmas – such as cows, goats, and chickens.
|An Angolan crèche and treetop angel|
Both Vigil and Christmas Day Masses are participated by vast crowds. The main feasting takes place after the Christmas Day Mass. Families with more economic resources share food with less fortunate families. On this day, invited and uninvited guests are all welcome. Families share with others the joy of the birth of the Savior. Unexpected guests add flavor to the joy of Christmas. It’s a joy to see the radiance on the faces of family members when they hear the salutation: Feliz Natal (Merry Christmas).
Beverages to accompany the meal are essential for the feast. Traditionally brewed beverages are normally consumed, although today national and imported beverages are also becoming popular in the rural areas.
Christmas in cities
In the cities, Christmas preparations are more organized and better structured. Spiritually it is notable in the participation of the faithful in retreats and preparation for the baptism of children. More zealous Christians go to both Midnight and Christmas day Masses. On Christmas day even the less active Catholics go to Mass. Those who miss the chance to go to church, either because of work or perhaps over-indulgence in festivities, end up assisting the lively televised Mass on the National Television Channel.
The days that precede Christmas are characterized by an increase in motor vehicle traffic and business, as all families mobilize their resources to buy the exotic foods and decorations available during that period of the year. Each one tries to buy the best for Christmas. In cities the exchange of Christmas gifts is very common. Shops are elegantly decorated with lights and gift packages that induce a special attraction to customers.
|an Angolan Christmas tradition is eating
of “bolo-rei” (translated “king-cake”),
a sweet Portuguese cake
Christmas instills in some people the spirit of sharing food or other items with less fortunate families. The most common gift exchanged among friends is a Christmas postcard filled with very personalized messages.
Also common during this Christmas season are Christmas cribs found in most homes – each one different from the other – depending on the inspiration or creativity of the young members of the families responsible for creating them.
The main Christmas meal takes place usually after the last Christmas Day Mass is celebrated. Since Christmas is also a family feast, it’s common to find in homes parents and grandparents, children and grand-children. It’s wonderful to see homes full of people thoroughly enjoying the company, food and drink. Like in the countryside, unexpected guests are most welcome. There is room for everybody; this comes from the deep-rooted African tradition of hospitality.
Although the traditional pirão ou funge (polenta made of corn meal or cassava roots) constitutes the main meal in many homes, the menu also includes other dishes like rice, spaghetti, french fries, fried chicken complemented by typical dishes like calulu, mufete, mwambá. Among the beverages, our national beers and our local kapuka (distilled from sugar cane or sweet potatoes).
In Angola, Christmas begins in the church and ends at home with the family feast. For hours families seem to be living in heaven – everyone trying to please everybody else. Music and dance are indispensable. How I wish it were Christmas every day!
Angolan Christmas Stamps