Ghana, Christmas in

Ghana, Christmas in

In Ghana traditional Christmas observances revolve around large family gatherings, feasts, singing, and church services. About forty percent of Ghanaians are Christians. The rest are followers of traditional African religions or Muslims. In recent years Christmas commercialism has crept into west African countries such as Ghana. In richer, urban areas people have begun to celebrate the holiday with decorated Christmas trees, electric Christmas lights, Santa Claus, Christmas cards, and gift exchanges. Even some non-Christians take part in this commercial Christmas. Yet most Ghanaian Christians, especially outside the cities, still celebrate the holiday in the traditional fashion.

Before Christmas

Many churches blossom with flowers and palm branches during Advent. As Christmas approaches, some congregations decorate a tree on the church grounds in honor of the coming holiday. In the last few days before Christmas jam-packed buses, trucks, cars, and boats criss-cross the country, ferrying people back to their ancestral towns and villages. Christmas carols blare from radios, loudspeakers, and televisions all over Ghana during this season.

Christmas Eve

On Christmas Eve families gather for a special dinner, often consisting of chicken stew or dishes made from rice and 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, "Egbona hee,egogo vo!", "Christ is coming, he is near!" Fireworks may also take place on Christmas Eve.

Christmas Day

On Christmas Day festivities begin quite early, sometime before dawn, as groups of carolers go door to door singing songs. Householders typically offer small presents to the singers, who stand for the band of angels that brought the good news of Jesus' birth to the shepherds. Caroling of the same sort may also take place on Christmas Eve. Christmas Day church services are scheduled for mid-morning. They feature 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 receive a book, new clothes, or shoes as Christmas presents. People greet each other, saying "Afishapa," which means "Merry Christmas and Happy New Year."

Christmas celebrations continue through the day as families, friends, and neighbors gather for feasts and dances. Typical foods eaten at Christmas time include peanut soup, fufu (a paste made from mashed yams), okra soup, and some kind of meat, such as chicken, goat, sheep, beef, or pork. Brightly colored paper ornaments pinned up throughout the house set a cheery mood for the festivities. Many Ghanaian families also festoon a tree growing in their courtyard with paper ornaments. Often mango, guava, or cashew trees serve this purpose. Other families will bring a single tree branch into the house and decorate it with lights and ornaments.

In Ghana many people observe the libation ceremony, a traditional folk ritual, at Christmas time. In this ritual people drink from a cup and then pour some of its contents on the ground as a symbolic offering to their ancestors.

After Christmas

Ghanaian Christmas celebrations traditionally last for eight days. Caroling children visit homes during this time, hoping that householders will reward their musical efforts with small gifts. The children often sing original songs or play homemade instruments.

Further Reading

Gonza, Sam. "Reclaiming the True Meaning of Christmas." All Africa News Service, Nairobi, Kenya (December 21, 1998). Griffin, Robert H., and Ann H. Shurgin, eds. The Folklore of World Holidays. Second edition. Detroit, Mich.: Gale Research, 1999. Sullivan, Tim. "The Modern, Material Christmas Makes Headway in West Africa." Associated Press Online (December 21, 1998). Tucker, Cathy C. Christmas Worldwide. Philadelphia, Pa.: Xlibris, 2000.

Web Sites

The following page, posted by the Rev. Peter E. Adotey Addo, a writer and United Methodist minister born in Ghana, describes Christmas celebrations in his native country:

For a short story by the Rev. Peter Addo describing a boy's Christmas in Ghana, see:
Encyclopedia of Christmas and New Year's Celebrations, 2nd ed. © Omnigraphics, Inc. 2003
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