Christmas is pretty low-key in Nairobi, says Samuel Wolff, an ELCA missionary serving as pastor of Nairobi International Lutheran Church in Nairobi, Kenya.
“It is also one of the warmest times of the year,” he says. So you won’t find images of Frosty the Snowman anywhere. And there’s never a chance of a white Christmas.
“Gifts are not expected and generally not part of a Kenyan Christmas celebration,” adds Samuel.
Instead, people in Kenya celebrate Christmas with “feast and presence.”
“Presence,” Samuel explains, means “a time for the wonderful African extended family to come together; the feast will most likely be goat and rice, which are considered feast foods.”
But the congregation does a bit more for the children at Christmas, who are some of the most faithful attendees at worship.
Cynthia Wolff, an ELCA missionary also serving in Nairobi, says that for many children, the Nairobi International Lutheran Church has become their community. Some come to worship with their families, but many come alone.
Whether the children attend the English- or Swahili-speaking services, worship is a time of singing and hope, especially at Christmas. They come from various ethnic groups. Some children are from either Christian or Muslim backgrounds, while others have never been introduced to any religion.
Christmas is a time for the congregation to make them feel especially welcome.
There is a party, says Samuel. “Most of our children come from the slums and many do not have enough to eat on a daily basis. So there is food and each child is given a small gift, such as a colored pencil.”
To many, a ball made out of plastic bags is a treasure, as is the opportunity to go to school or have a pair of shoes, Cynthia adds.
The highlight of the celebration is the “living nativity,” which is stationed in front of the church.
“We have Mary and Joseph, the baby Jesus, shepherds and the Wise Men,” says Samuel. Live animals — goats, sheep, cows and a camel — complete the scene.
“And what the children love most is that they all get to put on a white robe and serve as choir angels,” Samuel notes. “They stand in front of the manger, singing all the carols they know. The favorites will be sung over and over. They love it, and I can’t think of a better way to celebrate Christ’s birth.”
For more information about ELCA missionaries or to offer your support, go to Global Mission Support at the ELCA website.