Kenya celebrates a number of national and regional events and festivals throughout the year, usually connected to religion, historical events or African arts. Music, food and dance feature heavily in the celebrations, which usually emphasize family, community and unity. The vast majority of the population is Christian, so the major religious holidays of Easter and Christmas are also public holidays. The country’s 11 percent Muslim population means that Islamic traditions are also observed, mainly near the coast, which had a historically stronger Arab influence.
East African Arts Festival
In March each year, Nairobi hosts the East African Art Festival, the biggest of its kind in the region, which attracts competitors and spectators from around the world. The three-day event showcases art, music, theater, music, fashion, literature, architecture, sculpture and traditional crafts. It is hosted by the Kenyan National Museum.
In Kenya, Good Friday and Easter Monday are public holidays, marking the long weekend commemorating Jesus Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection. Good Friday often sees processions through the streets with dramatic recreations of the Stations of the Cross, culminating in church services. Saturday often involves a bonfire outside the church and the lighting of candles and prayers inside, with Sunday being a feast marked by singing, bell-ringing, church services, and family togetherness.
Eid Al Fitr is an Islamic celebration that usually takes place in September, when the sighting of the moon marks the end of the Muslim holy month of fasting during Ramadan. Eid celebrations usually involve personal cleansing, communal prayers, charity donations, and three full days of feasting and spending time with friends and family. The celebrations are biggest along the coastal areas where most of the Muslim population of Kenya lives.
International Camel Derby and Festival
The annual International Camel Derby and Festival has been held on the outskirts of Maralal town in northern Kenya since 1990. The main feature is the camel racing which takes place over several days through semi-desert regions and is open to amateurs and novices. Visitors come from all over the world to take part or watch, and there are also cycle races, donkey rides, children’s entertainment, and the opportunity to rent a camel for the day. The derby usually takes place in August.
November is when the city of Mombasa celebrates Kenyan culture with a carnival by the Indian Ocean. Artists, dancers, musicians and tribal people flock to take part in the concerts that make up one of Kenya’s largest annual events. One of the major features is the main street parade with floats that showcase the different tribal identities across the nation. There are street stalls and opportunities for eating, drinking and dancing.
Jamhuri means “republic” in Swahili and December 12 is set aside as a public holiday to celebrate Kenya’s becoming a republic in 1964. The date is doubly important as the country also gained independence from Britain on December 12, 1963. The occasion is marked by dancing, parades and a speech from each of the eight Provincial Presidents. Many towns also host cultural performances, while families will often get together for meals. Fireworks are often a highlight and air shows have become popular in modern times.
Kenya’s many Christians celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ on December 25, which is a public holiday. The events are largely religious in nature, featuring church services, caroling and nativity performances. Houses and churches are decorated with balloons, flowers and green leaves and storefronts in the larger towns are bathed in fake snow. If parents can afford gifts for the children, it will often be books, practical items or a new outfit for attending church. Families get together to attend services then enjoy a feast, usually of roasted goat.
New Year celebrations begin the evening of December 31 with parties, music and church services, leading up to the midnight countdown which sees fireworks, music and cheering to welcome in the New Year. Church services and non-religious parties take place all across the nation, many of which continue after dawn. Nairobi has the biggest event, with musical performances and fireworks displays. Mombasa is known for its New Year beach parties, often hosted by local radio stations with live music and DJs.