Senegal is located on the extreme western tip of Africa, along the edge of the Sahara Desert. Over 90 percent of its 13.5 million people are Muslims, with around seven percent being Christian, primarily Roman Catholic. Not only is Easter observed in Senegal, but Easter Monday is also a public holiday and off-work day.
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Senegalese are known for their hospitality, and people of other faiths are frequently invited to and attend Easter celebrations in Senegal. Churches may be filled with mostly Christian attendees, but private Easter parties at home may have many a Muslim neighbour in attendance.
There are very few big Easter events in Senegal, and there is very little commercialisation of the holiday. The meaning of Easter, the belief in Christ’s Resurrection from the dead, is very real to Christians in Senegal, though for non-Christians the holiday is simply a time for feasting, partying, and visiting friends and neighbours.
Churches will have Holy Week masses on Palm Sunday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday, and Easter Sunday, as in other parts of the world. And midnight Easter vigils or sunrise services can be found.
Private celebrations in homes are characterised by dancing all day and all night, blasting out traditional Easter or Senegalese music on the sound system, children running about and playing games, and cook outs that take place even in 90-degree heat.
Should you be traveling in Senegal during Easter time, here are some activities to look forward to:
- Shop for Easter sweets and presents in Dakar, at such establishments as Jeff de Bruges and Amande et Miel. Also look for traditional Senegalese treats like “Five Cent” peanut cookies, thiakry pudding, and banana glace “dessert soup.”
- Enjoy traditional Senegalese cuisine, whether at an Easter party or in a local restaurant. Look for plenty of fish dishes but rarely pork in this Atlantic Coast, Islamic nation. Expect stews and heavily marinated and spiced meats, primarily chicken, beef, and lamb. Peas, rice, peanuts, and yams are also commonly consumed, and fresh fruits, fruit juices, coffee, and tea are also on the menu.
- At home Easter parties, listen and learn Senegalese “mbalax” music and look for locals playing unique instruments such as tamas and sabar drums. See if your hosts will give you a try at playing an instrument and interpret for you the meaning of the lyrics.
- Attend Easter services at the International Christian Fellowship of Dakar. Services are in English, and all are welcome.
Easter is celebrated in a very unique way in Senegal and even by those who make no profession of Christianity. The tourist will find much to make an Easter time trip to Senegal enjoyable and memorable.