Christmas in Ghana is a special occasion for both Christians and non-Christians, with celebrations centered around large family gatherings and feasts.
For Christians, however, the most important message – the birth of Christ – is the focus, and church activities are never absent from the program.
By the middle of December, the tone is set and the atmosphere is created for celebration as Christmas carols are played in homes, shops, private cars, public buses and taxis. People choose favorite carols as ringtones for their cell phones. Brightly colored paper and ornaments pinned up throughout the houses set a cheery mood for the festivities.
Many families decorate trees growing in their courtyards, using multi-colored light bulbs. Some families bring a single tree branch into their houses and decorate it with lights and ornaments. These days, however, this custom is being replaced with imported, artificial Christmas trees.
Everyday greetings change from the usual “Good morning” and “Good afternoon” to “Afishiapa,” meaning Merry Christmas or Happy New Year. Business booms for traders as parents shop for clothing, shoes, food and beverages for their families.
By December 20, companies and organizations go on break so their workers can be with their families and travel to their hometowns.
By December 24, the official beginning of Christmas in Ghana, bus stations are filled to capacity with last-minute travelers who want to be with their families on Christmas Day. Travel fares increase, since commuters have no choice but to travel.
On the night of December 24, most churches hold Carols Night church services. These services are occasions to sing Christmas hymns and carols. Bible readings are based on scriptures that talk about the announcement and birth of the Christ. Youth groups perform plays depicting the story of the birth of Jesus. Their performances also feature choreography, recitals and other features that make the night a memorable one.
About a week or two prior to the Carols Night service, some churches distribute special Thanksgiving envelopes to their congregations. Money put into these envelopes is meant to give thanks to God for all He has done throughout the year. The people bring their envelopes to the Carols Night service, and the donated money is used to buy items such as cookies, beverages, clothing and food for poor and needy families.
On December 25, unless the day falls on a Sunday, many churches do not hold another service. Churches that have services on Christmas Day hold them mid-morning. Otherwise, the day is mostly for family and friends to feast and exchange gifts.
Christmas brings a lot of joy to children, who look forward to getting new clothes and shoes. They also expect to eat specially-prepared meals. Even regular meals are made more special by adding other ingredients to enhance the taste for Christmas.
The favorite meals children crave at Christmas are rice dishes with chicken stew and beverages of sweet drinks. Adults sometimes prefer peanut butter soup with mutton and fufu (a mixture of pounded cassava and plantains) or banku (corn dough meal), grilled tilapia with hot ground pepper, or banku with okra stew.
The celebration continues through December 26, which is called Boxing (Parceling) Day and is a public holiday in Ghana. It is on this day that families exchange gifts of cooked foods, drinks, cookies and candies.
The next day, the 27th, is when people return to work until the holidays of New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day.