18 December 2017

Ghana: Why You Should Celebrate Christmas in a Village

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Photo: Merry Christmas
Christmas celebrations

Christmas is a time of joy and merrymaking. So usually, in many countries, December 25th is a high point of the year.

In many countries, Christmas has been commercialized with the focus on bright lights, Santa Claus, merry making and gift sharing.

Similarly, Christmas celebrations in Ghana have been characterized by lots of colours, fun and excitement along with many elements.

It is argued that Ghanaians used to have unique ways of celebrating Christmas in days gone by. These days, many of the old elements are either diminishing or becoming extinct.

Therefore, Business Day has interacted with some older folks, who have shared their memorable experiences, reminiscing the days of old and the uniqueness of celebrating Christmas in hamlets and villages.

As they told us, here is a look at some key elements of Ghanaian Christmas celebrations that have changed over the years.

Decoration of Homes

Mr. Daniel Kofi Gyekye, 47 years of age, recounts his Christmas memories from the days he was in Konongo in the Ashanti Region.

From November onwards, it was impossible to forget that Christmas was coming. Brightly coloured lights illuminated many town centres and shops, along with shiny decorations.

In streets and shops, 'Christmas trees' were also decorated with lights and Christmas ornaments. Most of these trees were cut from conifer trees from friends and neighbours' homes. Back in the day, this was perfect scenery for Christmas.

Kofi Gyekye recalls that children built Christmas houses with palm branches; they played, danced, had fun in these momentary houses. Mainly, all children in the neighbourhood would go into the house to entertain themselves during this period.

These days, decorations still exist but are very minimal. They are either done mainly in homes (indoors) and offices or at events. The streets and shops are no more "painted" with the shiny and colourful decorations anymore. The building of Christmas houses with palm branches is no more, perhaps, except you are in a village.

Traveling to Hometowns

Christmas is a time when many Ghanaians who haven't been back home for a long time would travel to their villages and hometowns to be with family and friends. Most of people who travelled to big cities for greener pastures or financial upliftment love to go back home to spend time with family and old friends.

Oh! How Madame Esther Ameho, 66 years, misses the days of old in Chibu in the Volta Region.

She recalls that homecomers always came back home with many goodies such as food, sweets, mobile phones and other technologies that cannot be found in those villages. The day, when people pack bags and go back home for Christmas, or the widely acknowledged day in Ghana for these travels, is usually 24th December.

Madame Ameho recalls that parents presented Piccadilly biscuits to children who in turn used these biscuits to create necklaces, wearing them while visiting various households. "We move about in the village, we chew the biscuits one after the other. Rice is eaten in a special bow or plate; we eat in a way that the food will not finish early."

But nowadays, the travelling is not really done, because almost every day or weekend people travel back home for funerals and other family gatherings; hence, they do not use the Christmas season to travel back home again but rather use the season to spend time with their nucleus family, visit loved ones around them and go to church. There is also nothing special about eating rice because it is now an everyday food.

Masquerades

Madame Abena Kwakyewaa, 64 years, recounts memories from her hometown - Akwadum in the Eastern Region.

These memories are coming from probably the most interesting days for Christmas in Ghana, dating back a couple of decades. In the 80s and early 90s, masquerades were very dominant features of Christmas. Masked clowns usually stood on very high stilts and paraded the streets almost every day collecting items and money while dancing and creating fun for kids and many other onlookers.

A lot of these children were also scared of these funny looking men. These days, masquerades are not really existent and even where they are found, they do not have as much impact as they used to because children of late do not fear them, knowing the masquerade man is a human being.

Fire crackers (Knockouts)

Bro. James Anim, 53, remembers the days he celebrated Christmas at Apam in the Central Region. In those days, firecrackers, popularly known in Ghana as "Knockouts or Tuntei" were and still are the children's favourite.

There can be no Christmas in Ghana without the conflict of "knockouts". These interesting Christmas elements came in many forms such as rockets, bangers and sparklers. Kids found it amusing to light these firecrackers and watch them go off in style amid very ear kicking noise.

Nowadays, this is on the decline. There are strict regulations that restrict the importation and production of these firecrackers as a result of increased injuries and crime. Although a few foreigners still bring firecrackers to Ghana, the ones that are widely still seen around are the rocket types which are used to usher in the New Year.

Children expect from parents

According to Mr. Chris Williams, 69 years, when he spent Christmas at Dzita in the Volta Region, children had very high expectations, including anticipating that parents would buy them new clothes and "Chalewote", soft drinks, and let them have a bite of egg or chicken.

"Chalewote" was the very best sandal a child would wear. But out of excitement and fear of it being torn, children did not wear the "chalewote". They rather carried the "chalewote" on their heads, because the pair of chalewote was so precious to the child.

In those days, Christmas was normally for the children. On Christmas day, children would gather at a particular place, moving from one end of the town to the other in merry making, collecting gifts from people, celebrating, rejoicing as people prepared food and shared among the children.

Since not every family was able to afford to cook egg or chicken to eat during the year, parents, no matter the condition, tried at least to prepare chicken soup or stew with rice or fufu for the children to eat. Family started to gather these things from November.

Food items

Mostly, food items for Christmas were not available in the villages compared to today. So, parents were expected to prepare for Christmas by working hard to raise money to buy rice, chicken, oil, biscuits, turkeys, etc. Christmas always brought new dishes to the local home.

Memories

In the last few days before Christmas jam-packed buses, trucks, cars, and all forms of transport crisscrossed the country, ferrying people back to their ancestral towns and villages.

On Christmas eve, families gathered for a special dinner, often consisting of chicken stew or dishes made from rice, cow or goat meat.

Then they head off to church services that usually include a Nativity play or Christmas pageant performed by the congregation's youth. After church, people greet one another and exchange good wishes for the holiday. Processions form and ramble joyfully through the streets, led by bands of musicians. Children dash about shouting, "Maawuvi Egbona hee, egogo vo!", "Christ is coming, he is near!"

Christmas in the villages featured the retelling of the nativity story and the singing of many hymns and carols in local languages. After the service is over, children collect candies and other sweet treats said to have come from Father Christmas. Some also received books, new clothes, or shoes as Christmas presents.

People greeted each other, saying "Afehyiapa," which means "Merry Christmas and Happy New Year." Christmas celebrations continue through the day as families, friends, and neighbours gather for feasts and dances.

Will you be in Ghana this Christmas? Will your celebrations mirror those above and more importantly what will you be eating: chicken, beef, pork, goat or you are going to just lump for Turkey?

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