by Kofi Akpabli
A tale of yuletides in Ghana
If there is one event that shows how times have changed in Ghana, it is Christmas. Popularly called Bronya the festival is a big thing in Ghana. Although there have been some changes over the decades the event still conjures a feeling of goodwill and merrymaking throughout the country.
When I was growing up in the 1970’s Christmas signalled an exciting time of catchy carols, family gatherings and loads of good food. But the best part was that discipline was relaxed! Indeed, for me as a child no word sounded more pleasant than Christmas. It is supposed to be the most beautiful day in the year.
The sense of Christmas begins with the Harmattan season, a cold dry wind that blows across West Africa. As school children what really heralded the event is when we prepared to end the school term. The sound of Christmas songs filled the air. Our classrooms had winding rings of paper decorations. Immediately school breaks -which is usually a week to Christmas -we built our Christmas house. This is a palm frond hut built by the boys. We hanged out in there throughout the festivities.
By now our parents should have bought our Christmas clothing. This came with plastic accessories such as toy watches, spectacles, and colourful conical hats. Then there was your box of Piccadilly biscuits. They really were tasty in those times and we used to string them around our arm and neck.
Today, Christmas is quite different. My toddlers, for instance would not touch Piccadilly biscuits. They prefer Mars Bars, Snickers and Ben Ten candies. Again, in our childhood days rice and chicken with a bottle of minerals came on very special occasions such as Christmas. The deal now is that these treats have became commonplace and thus do not impress children anymore.
Christmas entertainment too has changed. Though we lived in Accra, about 250 km from my hometown, I got the chance as a child to experience traditional drumming and dancing. On Christmas eve my father’s relatives who lived in Accra all came to spend the night. And there was really no sleep for anyone. They played the Agbadza music. (I don’t remember a drum). They used sticks on saucepans, buckets and any implements that could bring out the fast-rhythmic sound. And they sang and danced. Punctuating the music of the night were fire-crackers that were released into the air.
Largely, Christmas morning has remained the same. Everyone dresses up in their best. The Churches are very full with people dressed in their colourful traditional clothes. Here in Ghana there is no Santa Claus or gifts under the Christmas tree. We still exchange gifts, though. Lunch after church is the highpoint of a family’s Christmas. Delicious meals are laid on. This includes rice and chicken and then fufu with goat meat soup. This is also the time that relatives and friends also come by to join the celebration.
Because the festival is just a week from the new year, families take advantage of it to take stock. Many people travel to visit their relatives and friends in other parts of the country. Plans and expectations for the coming are also discussed. Special messages are sent to and received from relatives all across the country.
Outside the cities and especially in cocoa growing villages Christmas is also a big deal. December is the start of the cocoa harvest (the bean that make chocolate) in Ghana. What this means is that farmers get paid for their labour and they really make their families happy. Some buy new household items such as stereos, televisions. Others actually take on new wives.
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Kofi Akpabli is a communications cunsultant and journalist. He is twice winner of the CNN African Journalist Award for Arts and Culture. He is the author of Tickling the Ghanaian and A Sense of Savannah. You can see more of the his work on his website.