THE GHANAIAN CHRISTMAS: By Godwin Fiagbor, Edify Staff
Dry air, Cracking lips, Masquerades, Harmattan*, and you know there’s an impending Ghanaian Christmas. Commuters are largely made up of shoppers and travellers who would rather spend the Yuletide in their hometowns. This translates into a lot of traffic in town. Chicken and other livestock dread the season, as they fear for their lives. Children can’t wait for the early December days to go by quickly- mainly because they stand a chance of getting new ‘bronya’ (Christmas) clothes, annual clothes maybe. The festivities start early on as the air is mostly filled with western and local Christmas carols. This takes up a fairly good part of the month. Church services are a frequent thing during this season.
By Christmas Eve, the Ghanaian Christmas has already taken off. Christmas day is marked by several church services across the country and church is so colorful on Christmas day because everyone comes to church with a brand new dress or shirt. You don’t want to go to church if you don’t have a new attire surely. Most families return home from services to sumptuous dishes, mainly rice with stew and chicken or goat. Soft drinks like Coca-Cola and Fanta are high in demand; they happen to be popular refreshments that accompany the eating and merry-making. This is where the typical Ghanaian hospitality culture comes to play. You definitely have to share food with your friends and neighbors. I remember how we were given about twenty different dishes on Christmas day and I was torn between which to eat but that simply meant I have to send twenty of my own dishes to folks. The one who brought the dish returns to his or her house with a dish from you.
Because the external family system is intrinsically woven into the Ghanaian culture, family visits are rampant. There is sometimes a neighbor-to-neighbor parcel exchange. Children dress up in their ‘bronya’ clothes and make trips to other homes to visit, and hopefully receive gifts. Streets in some suburbs get blocked as large speakers are mounted outdoors and made to spill forth local danceable Ghanaian music. Seen within the members of the dancing group are neighbors, strangers, and stray children. Even people from other religious backgrounds join in the celebrations. Yes, people from other religions, especially muslims; Ghana happens to be a place where religious co-existence is taken the extra mile. The joy of Christmas engulfs everyone regardless of their religion.
There is a lot of verbal Christmas wish, mostly heard in Twi (the main local dialect) as ‘Afihyiapa’. This is directly translated as good annual meeting but is essentially an equivalent of “Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.” Just like the British, Ghana also celebrates Boxing Day on the 26th. The day is marked by more family visits, exchanging of parcels ranging from food items such as bags of rice, yam, vegetables as well as live chicken.
This merry-making lasts through to the very end of the year. It is finally crowned by heavy church attendance on the 31st. This is typically a vigil that ushers in the new year. Uplifting sermons are preached; prophecies are given while fragile New Year’s resolutions are made. Much praying marks the services as well as singing and dancing. Most people choose to rest on New Year’s Day. Families spend time together; they treat themselves to more eating and drinking and seasonal Television programs on national TV stations.
The students at the Ken’s Baptist Academy, one of Edify’s schools are so excited and can’t wait to vacate in a few days. Briefly, interacting with them, they told me their excitement is mainly because they are going to get a new dress and they are going to perform a drama at church portraying the birth of Christ.
Felix, a primary 6 student, is excited because he gets to wear his masquerade attire to collect some gifts in town just like the children below who were parading the community with their boxes in their attire collecting gifts-coins mainly.
Benjamin who is going to take the role of angel Gabriel in his Church drama sang a melodious Christmas carols titled ‘Away in a Manger’. It was a nice piece for angel Gabriel to sing and I kept wondering on my drive back to the capital whether angel Gabriel did sing a carol. Who cares? Everything is possible once it is Christmas in Ghana! The motivation however is that these poor children know the season is about the birth of Christ.
As I apply my lip gloss to prevent my lips from cracking due to the harmattan, I remember playing the role as one of the three wise men when I was in Sunday school some years back and I definitely enjoyed that role a lot.
The Ghanaian Christmas is one of merry-making as well as coming together and reflecting on the happenings of the year. But more importantly it is a time of remembrance for the birth of Jesus Christ.
*Harmattan is a cold dry air that kind of dehydrates you and makes you find it very difficult to breathe. It is like a fog that makes the roads hazy and very unclear. It requires you use your fog light when driving. The intimidating aspect is that it cracks your lips and whitens your skin making it very dry hence you need your lip gloss or shea butter by you to apply on your lips and body.