Africa & The Middle East | Inspiration

How Zanzibar celebrates Christmas

The Zanzibar Archipelago lies off the Tanzanian coast, and it’s a stunning land of sandy beaches, turquoise seas and vibrant towns. The islands have a predominantly Muslim population – but that doesn’t stop them from getting into the Christmas spirit. There are however a few differences from your usual Christmas. Instead of snow, you’ll get dazzling white sand and instead of hot mulled wine, you’ll get locally brewed beer, but a Christmas in Zanzibar is just as magical as any other. From delicious Christmas feasts to moving church services, here is how to celebrate a very tropical Christmas in Tanzania and Zanzibar.

Getting the family together again

people playing on the beach at sunset Christmas in Zanzibar

Just like millions of families all over the world, the locals of Zanzibar reunite with friends and family for Christmas. It’s not always easy to spend time together throughout the year, with many people living on different islands, so Christmas is the perfect opportunity to catch up with long lost aunties and meet new family members. On Christmas Day in Zanzibar, you’re sure to see lots of people relaxing and laughing together while the kids play and have fun, just the way Christmas should be.

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Lots of good food and beer


What would Christmas be without a feast? The people of Zanzibar sure know how to throw a party with lots of good food and drink, and you can’t miss indulging on Christmas in this island paradise. So what will you eat? Many families buy a cow or goat in January and fatten it up all year especially to be the star of the Christmas feast. 

You’ll also find other traditional foods of this famous ‘Spice Island’, like fragrant biryani and pilau, starchy ugali, fried octopus and cassava. There’s also the vegetarian-friendly Wali Na Maharage (rice and red beans) and urjo, a delicious soup known as the ‘Zanzibar Mix’. For dessert, you’ll likely find the sweet vitumbua and the amazing East African doughnuts known as mandazi or mahamri.

And to wash it all down? Don’t forget the beer. Tanzania is famous for its locally-brewed beers and the frothy favourite in Zanzibar is the ‘Kili’ (Kilimanjaro beer). It’s closely followed by Serengeti beer, Safari lager, Tusker beer, and the Ndovu Special Malt. The locals drink their beer warm but if you prefer to drink it cold, you should say “Kili moja baridi”, meaning ‘one cold Kili’. Cheers!

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New clothes for Christmas

It’s a tradition in Zanzibar, Tanzania and much of East Africa to give new clothes to children for Christmas. The kids always expect some fancy new threads in December, and parents seek out the best at markets, shops or custom tailors. Most adults also treat themselves to a new outfit on Christmas too, so everyone looks great for the big day! 

beach hut palm trees Zanzibar

Church services

It’s very common for the locals in Zanzibar to go to church early in the morning on Christmas Day. They’ll be dressed up in their new clothes, and looking forward to honouring their faith and the birth of Jesus Christ, surrounded by their community. Some services can take hours, but you’ll always be back in time for the big Christmas lunch.

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Christmas carols

It wouldn’t be Christmas without some good old festive songs, and it’s no different in Zanzibar. Christmas means a whole lot of singing, from the carolling at church services, to the children going around the neighbourhood singing traditional Christmas songs. The carols are often sung in the local Swahili and English too, so almost everyone can join in on all the wonderful singing during Christmas in Zanzibar.

blue ocean palm tree Christmas in Zanzibar

Christmas decorations

Many homes, shops and streets are decorated in Christmas lights and ornaments in December, while the hotels put up some gorgeous festive displays. There’s only one major difference – instead of the classic pine or fir tree, you’ll likely see a palm tree on the beach all jazzed up in twinkling decorations. Sounds like Christmas in paradise!

Are you dreaming of spending Christmas in Zanzibar? Let us know in the comments below

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