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Christmas in Eritrea: A Unique Blend of Tradition and Modernity

Discover the Rich Cultural Heritage and Festive Spirit of an Eritrean Christmas Celebration

Eritrea, a small country in the Horn of Africa, boasts a rich cultural heritage and diverse traditions. Among the many festivities celebrated in Eritrea, Christmas holds a special place in the hearts of its people. In this article, we will explore how Christmas is celebrated in Eritrea, delving into traditional customs, religious practices, and unique traditions that make this festive season truly special.


Traditional Customs

Food and Drinks

Injera and Zigni

One of the central aspects of Christmas in Eritrea is the preparation and sharing of delicious food and drinks. Injera, a sourdough flatbread made from teff flour, is a staple in Eritrean cuisine and commonly served during Christmas celebrations. Zigni, a spicy stew made with meat, tomatoes, and berbere spice, is another popular dish enjoyed during the festive season. Eritrean families gather together to share these delectable meals, often accompanied by traditional homemade honey wine called “suwa” or “mes.”


Festive Decorations

Homes in Eritrea are adorned with colorful decorations during the Christmas season. Locally made crafts such as woven palm fronds and handmade clay ornaments are used to beautify the interiors, while fresh flowers and greenery add a touch of nature to the festive ambiance.


Traditional Clothing

Eritreans dress in their best traditional attire for Christmas celebrations. The women wear a white cotton dress called “zuria,” often embroidered with colorful patterns, while the men don a white shirt and pants called “kemis” and “habesha libs,” respectively. These traditional garments are a symbol of pride and a nod to the rich cultural heritage of the Eritrean people.


Community Gatherings

During the festive season, communities come together to celebrate Christmas. It’s a time for families, friends, and neighbors to gather, share food and drinks, and enjoy traditional music and dance. These gatherings foster a strong sense of unity and togetherness, which is a vital aspect of Eritrean culture.


Religious Practices

Orthodox Tewahedo Church

The majority of Eritrean Christians belong to the Eritrean Orthodox Tewahedo Church, which follows the Julian calendar. As a result, Christmas is celebrated on January 7th, unlike the Western tradition of December 25th. This unique date adds a distinctive flavor to Christmas celebrations in Eritrea.


Midnight Mass

Eritrean Christians attend midnight mass on the eve of Christmas, which is a significant religious event. During the service, prayers, hymns, and readings from the Bible are performed, commemorating the birth of Jesus Christ. The midnight mass is an essential aspect of Christmas celebrations in Eritrea, bringing families and communities together in a spiritual atmosphere.



In some parts of Eritrea, processions are organized during Christmas, with participants carrying religious icons and crosses. These processions are accompanied by traditional music, singing, and dancing, reflecting the deep-rooted religious and cultural aspects of the celebration.


Modern Celebrations

Urban Areas

In urban areas like Asmara, the capital city of Eritrea, Christmas celebrations are infused with modern elements. Decorated streets, shopping centers, and public places create a festive atmosphere. Some Eritrean families may adopt Western customs such as exchanging gifts, decorating Christmas trees, and even waiting for Santa Claus.


Global Influence

With Eritrean communities spread across the globe, Christmas celebrations in the diaspora have influenced the way Christmas is observed back in Eritrea. The exchange of ideas, traditions, and customs has enriched the Eritrean Christmas experience, making it a blend of both traditional and modern elements.


Unique Traditions


Gäsmikaél, also known as St. Michael’s Day, is a unique Eritrean tradition celebrated on the 29th of December. While not directly related to Christmas, the festivity holds a special place in the hearts of Eritreans. It’s a day of feasting and celebration, honoring St. Michael, one of the most revered saints in the Eritrean Orthodox Church.



Kuskwam is another Eritrean custom that takes place on the 19th of January. This day marks the baptism of Jesus Christ and is celebrated with great enthusiasm. Like Christmas, Kuskwam brings families and communities together, fostering unity and togetherness.


The Eritrean Spirit

Unity in Diversity

Eritrea is a diverse country, with nine ethnic groups and various religious beliefs. Christmas in Eritrea is a testament to the unity that exists within this diversity. The celebration transcends ethnic and religious lines, as people come together to rejoice in the spirit of the season.



The Eritrean people have faced numerous challenges, including war, drought, and political strife. Christmas in Eritrea is not just a celebration but also a symbol of the resilience and determination of the Eritrean people. The festive season brings hope, joy, and a renewed sense of optimism for a brighter future.



Christmas in Eritrea is a unique and heartwarming experience, blending traditional customs, religious practices, and modern influences. The celebration highlights the spirit of unity, diversity, and resilience that defines the Eritrean people. As we have seen, Christmas in Eritrea is not only about feasting and festivities but also about the values that bring people together and the hope for a better tomorrow.



  1. When is Christmas celebrated in Eritrea? Christmas is celebrated on January 7th in Eritrea, as the Eritrean Orthodox Tewahedo Church follows the Julian calendar.
  2. What are the traditional foods eaten during Christmas in Eritrea? Injera, a sourdough flatbread, and zigni, a spicy meat stew, are common traditional foods enjoyed during Christmas celebrations in Eritrea.
  3. What are some unique Eritrean Christmas traditions? Gäsmikaél, celebrated on the 29th of December, and Kuskwam, observed on the 19th of January, are unique Eritrean traditions that add to the festive spirit during the Christmas season.
  4. What is the significance of traditional clothing during Christmas in Eritrea? Eritreans wear traditional clothing, such as zuria for women and kemis and habesha libs for men, as a symbol of pride and to honor their rich cultural heritage during Christmas celebrations.
  5. How has the Eritrean diaspora influenced Christmas celebrations in Eritrea? The Eritrean diaspora has introduced new customs and ideas from their host countries, enriching the Christmas experience in Eritrea with a blend of traditional and modern elements.

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