New Year’s Day. January 1. New Year’s tends to be a bigger affair than Christmas in Benin. People will generally gather together with family and friends to cook a big meal, eat and drink and tell stories for hours on end.
Traditional Day. January 10. Also called Fête du Vodoun. It’s an important celebration in the Vodun religion. While it’s celebrated throughout the country, the largest festivities are held in the city of Ouidah. It starts out with the slaughter of a goat for the spirits and ends as a day of singing, dancing, eating, and drinking (a lot of gin) until you can’t do it anymore.
Prophet’s birthday (Mawlid). Varies. It’s a celebration surrounding the birth of the Prophet Muhammad. Mawlid is celebrated in most Muslim countries as well as countries where there is a large Muslim following. The date varies slightly and is based on the Islamic calendar. Traditions that are generally followed in most countries would be special prayer services throughout the day.
Easter. Varies. For Beninese Christians, the day starts with a church service and then spent with family. Beninese people love to celebrate holidays with food, so many dishes will be prepared and shared with loved ones.
Easter Monday. Varies. Benin is one of the few countries that have Easter Monday off. It is spent relaxing from the previous day’s festivities.
Labor Day. May 1. It’s a day that celebrates the worker and labor movements. There will usually be a speech from the leaders in the community. Many businesses, government offices, and schools have the day off to spend with family and friends.
Ascension. Varies. The holiday falls 40 days after Easter, Christians celebrate the ascension of Jesus into heaven after the resurrection.
Whit Monday. Varies. Also called Pentecost Monday and is celebrated 50 days after Easter. Whit Monday is the day traditionally thought to have been the day which Jesus was visited by the Holy Spirit who descended upon the disciples to give them the “gift of tongues.”
Independence Day. August 1. This day commemorates Benin’s independence from France in 1960. The entire country erupts in celebrations, with decorations and music everywhere. The flag is hung from businesses and homes, the national anthem is sung, and community leaders will give speeches.
Assumption. August 15. Assumption is the day that Catholics believe that Mary the mother of Jesus had ascended into heaven. Traditions vary from country to country, but in most Christian countries, especially those of a strong Catholic following celebrate it quite grandly.
Eid al-Fitr. Varies. This is the day of the marks the end of the month-long fast called Ramadan. It’s basically a feast day, with many special foods that are made for this special occasion. People generally spend the day with friends and family and attend special prayer services for this day.
Eid al-Adha. Varies. Also called Tabaski in Benin and many other Western African countries. It’s the day commemorating Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his only son. Many traditions include the slaughter on an animal and giving 1/3 to family or friends, keeping 1/3 for your own family, and giving 1/3 to the poor or other charitable organizations.
Armed Forces Day. October 26. It’s a day that celebrates all branches of the military. It happens to be the same date that Lt. Col. Mathieu Kérékou overthrew the previous administration.
All Saints’ Day. November 1. This Catholic holiday is basically a catch-all celebration in honor of all the saints, especially those who don’t have their own celebration day.
National Day. November 30. This happens to correspond to the day that Lt. Col. Mathieu Kérékou announced that the country would be Marxist and then changed the name of the country to the People’s Republic of Benin.
Christmas Day. December 25. Most people don’t have the money for elaborate gifts in Benin. But one thing they do is that they share elaborate meals with family and friends, telling stories and playing music. Many will try to buy certain kinds of meats and special treats for this day that they normally don’t have the money to buy throughout other times of the year. Much of the commercialization of the holiday is lost, and one blog I read said that many Beninese even go so far as to say that Santa Claus died a long time ago, so how could he drop off toys?
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