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Six ways to an ’80s Christmas


Thanks to globalisation, most Christmas celebrations around the world now revolve around the Christmas tree and Santa Claus.

Kenyans have long celebrated the Christmas season by traveling far and wide to be with their families. In the 1980s, the Kenyan Christmas was a lot different from what we have today. We reminisce on decor elements that helped make them so memorable.

Kenyan Santa

In the 1980s, Santa Claus was a Kenyan equivalent with British roots who children referred to as “Father Christmas.” He would ride in a tractor and spread Christmas cheer around the neighbourhood or at family Christmas events.

Now, with a lot of influence from media content sourced in the US, Santa Claus has become more popular than Father Christmas. Either way, you can bring the element of the gift-bearing kind stranger to your home by hanging Christmas stockings on your mantle or arranging gifts under the Christmas tree. 

 The cypress tree 

Cypress trees were a major part of the holidays. There’s nothing more nostalgic than the distinct aroma of the cypress Christmas tree.

The Christmas tree was an actual entire tree or large branch that was cut down and ferried to the home where it would be set in a large bucket filled with rocks and soil, and decorated with blinking lights. Sometime in the ’90s, many cypress trees were invaded by aphids and most Kenyans replaced the live tree tradition with artificial trees. 

Red tablecloth

The spirit of Christmas thrives in red. Red tablecloths were used to set tables and bring cheer to a home. Nothing makes Christmas more Kenyan than a spread of chapati, pilau, mbuzi, kachumbari and matumbo on grandma’s red table cloth. It probably even had a matching set for the seats with green and red embroidery.

Lametta or Meta meta

Lametta, a popular Christmas décor back in the day was borrowed from German tradition. It was hung all around the house and on Christmas trees. To date, it is popular as a garland to recognise graduands at graduation ceremonies. Lametta is made from tinsel, tiny shiny strips of sparkling material. It is from this name that the Kiswahili phrase “meta meta” was coined. 


Nothing stirred the Christmas mood better than the cassette player and entertainment unit that boomed Christmas music by Boney M and Kenny Rogers. This highly-valued music system was placed strategically on a countertop, probably covered with a crocheted ‘kitambaa’ and was not to be touched by just anyone unless you had been instructed to press “rewind”.  

Crepe paper

Crepe paper, a wrinkly and lightweight type of paper, was sold as a sheet and then cut into strips to make decorations. Crepe paper came in a variety of colours and was a more environmental-friendly option compared to lametta. Crepe paper was used to make pompoms, garlands and tree decorations. You probably remember settling down in a circle with relatives to make crepe paper decorations.

Do you still observe some of these traditions? Why not try some of these decorations and reminisce with family? Tell us all about it on [email protected]






If you got the chance to ask God one question, what would it be?

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