December 24, 2021

Senegal’s Rich Culture of Gift Giving & Inclusivity in Celebration

How Christmas is honored in a 95% Muslim Country

My aunt, Grandma Adama and Mom. 

"

Your value is not in what you have, but in what you give.

- Grandma Adama

In Senegalese culture, gift-giving is the strongest love language. Generosity plays a big role in our heritage, and is omnipresent in most social interactions from the most extravagant cultural celebrations to mundane day to day activities. In our world, “Your value is not in what you have, but in what you give.” - Grandma Adama 

A Culture Where Gifting is Love

Senegalese culture represents a colorful tapestry. The country is known for its boundless generosity and hospitality. This is what we call “teranga,” a Wolof word that loosely translates to hospitality. We regard generosity as the highest virtue, and believe that what is ours is everyone’s. Therefore, it is no surprise that gifting and sharing is in the country’s DNA. 

Senegal is known for its boundless generosity and hospitality. This is what we call “teranga,” a Wolof word that loosely translates to hospitality. (Credit: BBC/Barry Lewis/Alamy)

Senegalese women are iconic for elevating every occasion to the next level, from simple friends gatherings to weddings. 

My sister Sokhna's wedding. 

Dressing up and adornment are highly valued and so is gift giving for any occasion; it’s how we show appreciation for one another. Whether it’s a small piece of jewelry or something bigger, we take our looks and our gifts very seriously.

Senegalese women are iconic for elevating every occasion to the next level, from simple friends gatherings to weddings. 

For women, the most common gifts are textiles, currency, and jewelry, particularly gold. Gold is typically associated with love, status, magic, and wealth.

Gold is typically associated with love, status, magic, and wealth.

Inclusivity & Christmas in a 95% Muslim Country

In Senegal, the notion of teranga is not just focused on gifting material items; it goes beyond. Teranga is a mindset, a way of life, whereby sharing and gifting is at the human level. You fully share yourself and welcome others in who they are and that translates into a beautiful and inclusive community regardless of differences.

In Senegal, the notion of teranga is not just focused on gifting material items; it goes beyond. Teranga is a mindset, a way of life, whereby sharing and gifting is at the human level. (Credit: Xinhua)

In an article published by Quartz Africa, the author expressed how Senegal is no stranger to diversity. With a population that is 95% Muslim and 5% Christian, people don’t just coexists but thrive beautifully in their differences. From Eid to Christmas, you’ll see people from both sides sharing and honoring one another. Respect and compassion are at the core of human interactions regardless of culture, religion, or ethnicity. 

We embrace diversity and value solidarity as something we take pride in at a cultural level. For us, Christmas is one of the most beautiful holidays, and we celebrate during the entire month of December. The city is covered in colorful lights and garlands and street vendors dress as Santa Claus to sell plastic Christmas trees. The population, both muslims and christians, throw beautiful dinners parties with delectable menus, and invite each other to celebrate our common love for this special holiday.

For us, Christmas is one of the most beautiful holidays, and we celebrate during the entire month of December. The city is covered in colorful lights and garlands and street vendors dress as Santa Claus to sell plastic Christmas trees. (AP PhotoRebecca Blackwell)

We have spent decades building a culture of openness, trust, and warmth, which shows in our strong sense of community. 

In this regard: Teranga is our greatest gift!

The Art of Conscious Gift Wrapping

An important DIARRABLU mission is reducing waste and that is highly influenced by Senegalese culture. Here, even the tiniest piece of textile needs to find its purpose, whether it’s going to be part of a garment or the packaging. For us, gifting and wrapping has a strong conscious element. We always keep fabric scraps and turn them into bags, packages, pouches, and the like. Any local market will beautifully pack your goods in dust bags made of recycled materials. How magical is it to know that your gift was wrapped in a piece of fabric that already lived so many previous lives?

In Senegal, even the tiniest piece of textile needs to find its purpose, whether it’s going to be a part of a garment or the packaging. 

The Ultimate Gift is Loved Ones

Material gifts aside, nothing compares to the euphoria we feel when we’re in the presence of our family and friends after having been apart. The holidays are a grand time where often the African diaspora returns home not only bearing beautiful foreign gifts but also being the gift themselves, after having been away for so long. It’s also wedding season, so a lot of the holiday parties are also wedding parties across multiple days, something West Africans never skimp on, with regards to style and extravagance. 

Whether you are celebrating Christmas in Senegal or elsewhere, the ultimate gift is the ability to spend this special time with loved ones. 

Ultimately, whether you are celebrating Christmas in Senegal or elsewhere, the ultimate gift is the ability to spend this special time with loved ones. In our covid era, that may look different for everyone. The true magic is in the love and connectedness we feel, regardless of whether celebrations are virtual or real life. 

Happy Holidays my loves!