A person holding a globe Christmas bauble

Christmas across continents, Part 2: Jollof rice, Brazilian barbeques, and crazy cats

Welcome back to the second and final part of Oban’s Christmas blog series, where once again we’ve enlisted the wisdom of our Local In-Market Experts. This time, we unwrap the merry traditions of Nigeria, Brazil, and Iceland. Read on to experience a whirlwind of tropical vibes, samba beats, and arctic wonders…

A Nigerian Noel: Jingle bells and jollof rice

Tomi in Abuja:

In Nigeria, we don’t deck the halls, we deck the palms! Christmas decorations here are a burst of colour and culture, waving goodbye to mistletoe and snowflakes and hello to a riot of fabrics and twinkling lights. Homes, offices, and shopping malls become a festive explosion of reds, greens, and golds.

Christmas is synonymous with family. Nigerians around the world flock to cities, towns, or villages to be ‘home for Christmas’. It’s a time for laughter, being together, and reconnecting with loved ones. Children are excited by the thought of gifts from Father Christmas. But the real magic of Christmas lies in community, with charity events, gift drives, and community feasts.

For the devout, Christmas is obviously a spiritual time. Churches overflow with worshippers, as they organise carol services and re-enactments of the birth of Jesus to bring the community together in reflection and song.

Food-wise, forget turkey. In Nigeria, Christmas feasts boast a mouth-watering array of dishes with jollof rice taking centre stage. Jollof rice is a one-pot dish and can be accompanied by grilled chicken, fried fish, and sides such as moi moi (steamed bean pudding) and coleslaw.

The festive spirit in Nigeria extends to a tradition of buying or sewing new clothes. From kids to adults, it’s common to don fresh hairstyles and outfits, so people can present their best selves for the holidays. It’s a fashion statement that adds a touch of glam to the season.

In urban areas, especially the bustling city of Lagos, Christmas brings vibrant nightlife to the forefront. Entertainment spots organise special events, turning the city into a lively playground of celebration.


Brazilian blessings: Barbeques and baubles

Gabriela in Sao Paulo:

For retailers in Brazil, Christmas is the holiday that sells the most. Shopping malls start their Christmas decorations in early November to introduce the Christmas mood to consumers. Gifts are exchanged from early December onwards. Companies typically have festive parties where it’s common to play Secret Santa. These tend to be not so secret – when gifts are opened, the giver usually reveals themselves.

On Christmas Eve, in the late afternoon, families and friends get together in large groups. Many people travel great distances to meet up with the people closest to them and celebrate together. Those who are far from their family are often invited by a friend to have Christmas with them. It’s hard for Brazilians to let someone they know spend Christmas without company.

The most popular dishes at the traditional Christmas dinner are turkey and prime poultry, but special cuts of pork are also eaten, with rice, salads, and other regional dishes. Some families even have a Brazilian barbecue.

Dinner is usually eaten after midnight, when it’s also time to open presents, sometimes before dinner and sometimes after. As the celebrations are usually in large groups, it’s common for families to do Secret Santa as well, but even so, the children always get lots of extra presents.

On 25th December, celebrations continue with Christmas lunch. Usually, food left over from the previous evening is served, as Brazilian celebrations tend to involve a lot of food, with a few new dishes to complement the lunch. On the 25th, new groups are often formed with participants who couldn’t make it the day before. Some families leave the Brazilian barbecue for Christmas Day. Overall, everyone does their best to have a Merry Christmas or, as we say in Brazil, Feliz Natal!


An Icelandic Yuletide: Christmas ham, Yule lads, and cat legends

Tanja Teresa in Reykjavík:

The main Christmas celebration in Iceland is Christmas Eve. On Christmas Eve, at 6pm, church bells ring to signal Christmas, and those who are religious attend Mass. Families eat Christmas dinner together and afterwards open presents under the Christmas tree. The next day – Christmas Day – is when extended family members tend to join the group.

The most common Christmas dinner is Christmas ham with roasted and sweetened potatoes, gravy, sprouts, red pickled cabbage, green peas, and Waldorf salad (the Icelandic version involves green apples, celery, salted nuts, chocolate, and whipped cream). It’s also common for people to have a bird, especially the rock ptarmigan which is local to Iceland. To get one, you have to know someone who hunts them, as they are not sold in supermarkets!

Many people play board games together of various kinds. Going skiing or for long walks in the snow or building snowmen and snow houses is also traditional especially for families with young children.

A distinctive Icelandic Christmas twist is the 13 Yule Lads (our version of Santa), their evil and scary ogre mother who eats badly behaved children, and their cat. The Christmas cat sneaks around to find children who didn’t get new clothes for Christmas so he can eat them! Aside from nightmarish tales for children, there’s also the rotten skate fish we boil the night before Christmas Eve, which can evoke surprise or unease amongst children, tourists, and those not raised in the tradition.

Our Yule Lads come to town on the 12th of December and countdown to Christmas Eve when the last one arrives on the morning of the 24th. They all have different personalities and are as mischievous as they are kind. They are typically depicted in the normal Santa Claus costume, although some portrayals might show them in our national costume instead.  Children leave a shoe out in the window and if they are well behaved, the Yule Lads will bring them a treat or a small toy, but if they have misbehaved, they receive a lump of coal or a potato in their shoe instead. I remember being terrified of Grýla (the Yule Lads’ troll mother) because the story is that she would come to eat us!


Don’t forget to read Part 1 of our festive holiday blog series – which focused on Czechia, Japan, Italy, and Canada.

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