Madagascar, Christmas in

Madagascar, Christmas in

The people of Madagascar, a large island nation off the coast of southern Africa, enjoy a summertime Christmas (see also Winter Solstice). Just over forty percent of the Malagasy people are Christians, about seven percent are Muslims, and the rest practice traditional religions.

Christians in Madagascar celebrate Christmas with church services and gift giving. In spite of the summer heat, their Christmas gift bringer wears a red suit edged with white fur, much like Santa Claus. In Malagasy his name is Dadabenoely. In French he is called leBonhomme Noël, which may be translated as Father Christmas.

New Year's Celebrations

The traditional Malagasy New Year's Day falls months after Christmas. This lunar festival takes place in March, at the time of the first new moon of the Malagasy year. Both New Year's Eve and Day are important occasions in Madagascar. In the capital city of Antananarivo people celebrate both days. On the first day people put on their brightly colored holiday clothes and assemble at Ambohimanga, the holy hill on top of which the queen once had her palace. Once there they listen to energetic music and take part in rituals designed to honor and communicate with their ancestors. People attend these ceremonies in bare feet as a sign of humility. Some attendees fall into trances during which time they can convey messages and prayers to those who have died. Once these ceremonies have concluded people head for home where families gather together for special meals. On this occasion many people eat romaza, a dish made from meat, rice, herbs and leaves. A kind of wine, distilled from sugar cane and rice, may also be served. People begin New Year's Day with a Christian hymn. In this country most people are perfectly comfortable mixing together Christian and indigenous customs and rituals. Later, two zebu, a humpback kind of African cattle, are sacrificed and people are anointed with the blood, which is thought to enhance the power of prayers.

Further Reading

Ellis, Royton, and John R. Jones. Festivals of the World: Madagascar. Milwaukee, Wis.: Gareth Stevens, 1999. Heale, Jay. Cultures of the World: Madagascar. Tarrytown, N.Y.: Marshall Cavendish, 1998.
Encyclopedia of Christmas and New Year's Celebrations, 2nd ed. © Omnigraphics, Inc. 2003