Published: 7-12-2010, 17:20

Christmas in Sudan

Sudan, the largest country in Africa, is an ethnically and religiously diverse society. About 70 percent of its citizens are Muslim and some claim Arab roots. They live mostly in the north. About 25 percent of Sudanese follow tribal religions and about five percent are Christians. These people, mostly black Africans from a variety of ethnic groups, live primarily in the south. The country has been embroiled in a civil war since the 1980s which has left two million people either dead or displaced from their homes. Disease, starvation, and terrible abuses of human rights, including the use of torture and the capture and sale of southern Sudanese as slaves, have also caused unfathomable misery.

In spite of all this suffering, Sudanese Christians still celebrate Christmas. Their celebrations might seem unfamiliar to many Americans, however. They never adopted the western European custom of decorating a Christmas tree. The American Santa Claus and other Christmas gift bringers are unknown to them. In much of war-torn southern Sudan, Christians simply hope to celebrate Christmas by attending church and sharing a good meal with their family. Christmas church services in Sudan include readings from the Bible as well as many hymns written in tribal languages such as Nuer, Dinka, Shil-luk, Naban, Zande, Baria, and Tira. Hymn singing is often accompanied by drumming and sometimes by dancing. One foreign aid worker described a moving Christmas Eve service attended by many refugees in which the sermon pointed out that Jesus came into the world as a refugee, his parents forced to leave their homes to fulfill the demands of a hostile government (see also Gospel According to Luke). People who can afford it wear new clothes on Christmas Day. Dance parties, featuring traditional tribal dress and dancing, also take place at Christmas time.