New Years Day (January 1): Some of the churches and mosques have a special services to bring in the new year at the stroke of midnight, and the people often wish each other the gift of peace for the coming year. Given the political events and civil war in recent years, that’s a huge wish to place for everyone. Afterwards, the parties continue with fireworks displays, ever-flowing beer, and music and dancing until the sun starts to rise again. Many people send well wishes and even gifts to their closes friends and family around this time.
Prophet’s Birthday (varies): Also called Mawlid or Maouloud. Along with 47 other countries of the Muslim world, Côte d’Ivoire also holds the Prophet’s Birthday as a public holiday. (I think I finally figured out why in a lot of the Islam-based websites I read that the initials PBUH was after the Prophet’s name almost every time it was written: I’m fairly certain it stands for “Peace Be Unto Him.” But correct me if I’m wrong.) On this day, Muslims decorate the mosques and their homes, reciting special prayers, reading passages about his life, and many people will also prepare food to give to the poor and/or other acts of charity.
Easter Monday (varies): Starting days before Easter itself, these celebrations are an important time for most Ivoirian Christians. Maundy Thursday is often spent washing the feet of new believers to the church. Many people use Good Friday as a day for going door-to-door evangelizing and trying to encourage non-members to convert. In the US, Easter Saturday is generally quiet, but in Côte d’Ivoire, many people stay up all night to sing, dance, and pray their way into Easter Sunday, which starts out with special, often larger, services held at the church. Often, the Easter stories are tied together with the underlying message of hope. Afterwards people continue celebrating with a large meal (often with rice and meat) with friends and family. Easter Monday a declared day off of work and school, most likely to recuperate from the intense celebrations for the past few days.
Labour Day (May 1): Celebrated with many other countries on this day, Labour Day is a day to celebrate the workers of the world and to address the state of labor and labor issues. Currently, among some of the larger labor issues Côte d’Ivoire faces involve the use of child labor, despite government efforts to curb and regulate the issue, it still happens. Civil war and political strife often makes it hard on people to feel that child labor is a necessary decision in order to make ends meet, and resources just aren’t available to both businesses and families. It’s estimated that 46,000 children are employed as child laborers under inhumane conditions, often trafficked in and abused, instead of attending school. Many of these abuses take place on the cocoa bean plantations – Côte d’Ivoire is the world’s leading producer of cocoa. (On the other side of the coin, Europe is the leading importer of cocoa – various reports list Germany, Switzerland, and Great Britain among the top chocolate consumers of the world.) Like similar situations elsewhere in Africa and the world (and even the US), issues of labor and education are far more complicated and interwoven to have a simple solution.
Ascension (varies): This celebration occurs 40 days after Easter and is traditionally celebrated by Christians as the day they attribute to Jesus’ ascension into heaven. Schools and businesses close for the day. There may be special services held at churches for people to attend.
Whit Monday (varies): Also known as Pentecost Monday. Traditionally held on the 50th day after Easter (hence, PENTE-cost), there is often a special church service held where many hymns are sung in honor of the day. The traditional belief behind this day is that 50 days after Jesus was resurrected, the Holy Spirit came to the disciples and gave them the “gift of tongues.” The name Whit Sunday (or Whit Monday) came from the wearing of white clothes by the newly baptized.
Independence Day (August 7): Celebrating its independence from France in 1960, Côte d’Ivoire certainly packs the whole day with festivities for everyone. Outdoor community festivals are planned with parades, a variety of food and drink, music and dancing, cultural displays, soccer games, and fireworks in the evening. Some of the more popular foods include aloko (bananas fried in palm oil) and a local palm wine called Bangui (not to be confused with the capital of Central African Republic). The town decorates businesses and homes with the national colors and hangs the flag everywhere.
Revelation of the Qur’an (varies): Also known as Laylat al-Qadr. It’s the night traditionally attributed to being the night when the verses of the Qur’an was revealed to Muhammad. Many recite extra prayers and read passages from the Qur’an. The Qur’an doesn’t necessarily cite a date for this day, and it’s celebrated in slightly different ways depending on whether you’re a Sunni and Shia. But generally it is celebrated on an odd-numbered day during the last ten days of Ramadan.
End of Ramadan (varies): Also known as Eid al-Fitr, this day is marked by a huge feast celebrating the end of Ramadan, the month-long fast of Islam. Special prayer services are held at the mosque to mark the end of Ramadan and are followed by an elaborate feast with friends and family. A large variety of foods and drinks are displayed on the table, and it certainly depends on where you live and how much money you have as to what particular foods are served. Many people also give small gifts to the children at Eid as well.
Feast of the Sacrifice (varies): Also known as Eid al-Adha or Tabaski. It’s tied to the story of Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his only son simply because God had asked him to, all to stop the sacrifice at the last minute. There are several prayers that are read on this day and special prayer services are held. People dress in their best clothes on this day, and one tradition is to slaughter an animal and divide the meat into keeping some for your own family, giving some to other family members, and giving some to the needy as an act of charity. Those who don’t have the opportunity to slaughter an animal in this ritual will often donate money to charitable organizations to purchase food for the needy instead.
All Saint’s Day (November 1): This is a Christian holiday in honor of all of the saints. Many saints already have their own feast days (especially in the Catholic tradition), so this day is to honor all of the saints who do not have specific feast days. On this day, all who are able will usually attend a special mass.
National Peace Day (November 15): Somehow, this holiday hasn’t been written about much, but generally from what I’ve gathered, this is a holiday that the government has set aside to working together to try to regain Côte d’Ivoire as a peaceful nation. In light of the instability that has taken place over much of the past decade or so, regaining peaceful footing is something they are striving and working towards on a long-term path. It may be later than sooner, but I’m hoping that they will achieve peace and stability again.
Christmas Day (December 25): One tradition in Côte d’Ivoire is that people will gather at their church on Christmas Eve night to participate in a huge festival that lasts until the early morning hours. There’s feasting, singing, dancing, skits, games, music, prayers, and stories. Sometimes the kids will find a corner and fall asleep (which I’d probably be with them. As I’ve found, partying in your 30s is far lamer than how I partied in my 20s.). They don’t do the commercialism associated with Christmas that you find in the Americas and Europe – in fact, gifts aren’t really exchanged all that much. (Often they will exchange gifts with people for New Years.)
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