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Celebrating Christmas South Sudanese style

16 December 2021

Celebrating Christmas South Sudanese style

The Salvos play an active part in the Nuer Christian Church, especially at Christmas.

Words Simone Worthing

The Berwick (Vic.) Salvos, like many others around the country, is home to a large South Sudanese community. Christmas is a special time for this multi-generational and growing community, with celebrations taking place over several days and involving worship, singing, dancing, family, and food. 

In the Berwick area of south-east Melbourne, the Salvos are part of – and also host – the Christmas celebrations of the Nuer* Christian United Church. This group also includes Lutheran, Anglican, Presbyterian, Baptist, and Nazarene Christians. 

“Like in South Sudan, we start our celebrations around 2pm on 24 December,” explains Salvo Elizabeth Dak, chairperson of the Nuer Christian United Church. 

“We celebrate the birth of the King [Jesus] until around midnight, when we acknowledge and welcome in the day of his birth. 

“Christmas morning is also huge as we gather as a congregation to continue to celebrate and praise God together. We generally spend the majority of the day at church, with services ending by late evening. There is singing, preaching, Bible reading, the choir.” 

Elizabeth, left, and Nyakuma, are an integral part of the Sudanese celebrations. 

Preparations for the songs begin in late October. Each church practises their hymns and carols, with different groups coming in different uniforms to represent their church. The women’s group and youth group also sing, commemorating the birth of Christ. 

“We surprise each other with the special Christmas songs we sing,” says Salvo Nyakuma Kulang. 

“We proudly wear our Salvos uniform. The children all receive new clothes to wear on these days. The different women’s groups bring different dishes for everyone to eat over both days. It’s mostly the kids who eat, as the rest of us are all busy in church.” 

Gifts for family and friends, and food, also play a big role in the celebrations, although not until 26 December. The festivities can then last two to three days. 

“We set the table for the family and serve chicken, meat, okra, fish, green vegetables, and leaves,” says Nyakuma. “We drink tea with lots of sugar, and also have fried donuts that we make ourselves, light bread with egg and milk, and cous cous. 

“There is dancing, games, presents, competitions, and music. It’s a time full of joy and happiness and we are thankful to God for his grace and getting us through the year.” 

*The largest ethnic group in South Sudan. 


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