How we do Christmas in Sierra Leone

So, picture this.

The Christmas period in Freetown, Sierra Leone is joyous for everyone. Sierra Leoneans living abroad come back. The city is full of people. Families gather together, go out and visit friends and relations and everyone celebrates. It doesn’t matter if you are Muslim or Christian – everyone is involved.

I’m here in England, thinking about Christmases I have had back home.

I miss the hot weather, cooled by the harmattan winds blowing in from the Sahara desert.

I miss the music played from every corner on every street. The Hifi systems precariously balanced on top of cars, tables, roofs, drink crates, pumping out songs and all trying to compete for your attention and trying to be loudest.

Then there are the three hour church services on Christmas eve where to get a good seat you arrive a further hour early and sometimes have to bring your own chairs. These are seriously social occasions, everyone is gossiping, and enjoying themselves. And our carols in church – I don’t know how to describe it, the words and tune are the same as the British ones, but the whole tone is different, somehow there is more swing to the music.

I miss the carnival processions where ‘debul dem’ (Devils – brilliantly costumed masked dancers are followed by huge crowds of people dancing and singing), with the procession interrupted every now and again with the debul calling in on a house and sitting down to have a nice cooling beer. Then on with the party.

And the food. That’s something I really miss. Not just what we cook, but the fact that friends will send dishes round to ours, and we do the same. Of course, this is a part of serious one-upmanship. Everyone makes sure that they send out the best possible food, presented in the best possible way.

In my home, the main dish of jollof rice is made even tastier by a sweet oniony stew. The roast chicken and roasted pork ribs are accompanied by warm fried plantains, sweet potato, meat patties, coleslaw and delicious peanut gravy. Next come the heaped piles of cassava and yams to help mop up the steaming bowls of pepper soup. The huge tray of salad piled even higher with sweet juicy tomatoes, cucumber, tuna, beans, eggs and onions.

In the sweet corners (where all the children are usually found) are the banana bread, rice cakes, coconut cake, sweets and biscuits. In the fridge would be the huge jars of cool refreshing ginger beer flavoured with limes and fragrant cloves. Crates for soft drinks, Guinness and Star Beer would be piled high in the corner whilst the bottles themselves would spill out of huge buckets filled to the brim with ice cubes. Afternoons are saved for just eating, relaxing and catching up – and eating some more.

Then on boxing day everyone goes on an ‘outing’. Everyone puts on their best clothes, and pack huge baskets of delicious leftovers and even more newly cooked food. Then they drive to one of the beaches (this is where Freetown is better than almost anywhere else – it has wonderful sandy beaches all around). Of course, you sit in traffic for hours before you get there, as everyone else has the same idea. People are going in cars, or if you haven’t got a car, you can go on the back of a motorbike, in a mini-bus (poda poda) or on the back of a truck. Getting back home? That’s tomorrow’s problem.

At the beach, the party gets going. People spread out colourful mats, and friends and families will share food with each other. Gossip too is shared, in equal proportions, with equal importance. That’s the old folk. The young are playing football, frisbees, or splashing in the sea. And if you’re not sporty, there is always dancing. Someone (or lots of someones) will have brought party-sized speakers and music will be blaring out over the beach. Happy chaos.

I miss it all.

And let me end this post with our age old verse that is so often sung again and again and again at Christmas.

‘Happy Chrismes me nor die oh. Happy Chrismes me nor die oh. Tell God tenkey for me life oh, Happy Chrismes me nor die oh.’

This is an update of an old post.

Here are some Sierra Leonean recipes.

Jollof rice

Fried rice

Chicken and sweet potato stew

Black-eyed beans and sweet potato stew

Roasted pork ribs

Fried plantains


Baked chicken



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  1. Thank you for writing this article. So often all we see in the media are the tribulations of our sweet sierra Leone. Very depressing. Your description of how we celebrate Christmas at it core shows who we are – we are the greatest when it comes to celebrating life even though we do not have much compare to the rest of the world.

  2. Thank you Bintu. As a Sierra Leonean who grew up mostly in the UK, I am learning a lot about our foods, how to cook them and how holidays are celebrated joyfully in Sierra Leone. Keep up the good work. x

  3. . Passei para uma . “O seredgo do Natal este1 dentro da gente, reflita e viva-o intensamente.”( ,) .` . * * . . * * . . * * . MERRY CHRISTMAS!Boa sexta-feira!Bom fim de semana!Beijinhos do Brasil. .

  4. Sounds like a beautiful Christmas time, full of fun and quality time with friends and families! It’s exactly same way in my home country 🙂 Hope you had a great Christmas here Bintu! xxx

  5. You have just flood me with wonderful memories of my childhood. Christmas Food. Thank you

  6. Thank you for this lovely post about Christmas in Sierra Leone. It is so easy to forget how other people can ‘have’ Christmas in such a different way. The way you describe it is so vibrant


    I bet you are really missing the weather back there is awful out there

    When I am on my pc I might have a look at those recipes. Thanks again…now go and make a sweetie tree lol xxxxx

    1. Thanks Gail. I am freezing when outside but thankfully I have a lovely warming stove in the kitchen.