In this week’s guest post, on Christmas Day, we travel to Ghana with Gayle Pascud of G-lish for an intimate look at how Christmas is celebrated in this West African country. Gayle lives and works in Bolgatanga, the Upper East Region of Ghana. She loves telling her Ghanaian stories to the world and blogs about volunteering, fair trade, sustainable development, travel, food and more.
CHRISTMAS IN GHANA
There are no gifts. There is no roast turkey or goose. There are no chocolates or puddings or trees or tinsel. The aroma of mulled wine floating from the stove top is absent too. It seems like any other day.
I only notice that something is different when I cross the fallow maize fields to the highway to buy some eggs.
The sun is already high in the sky. I look along the highway. A faint haze blurs the baobabs in the distance. This is the Harmattan season, a two-month period during which dust from the Sahara Desert settles across West Africa producing foggy scenes and intense lava-red sunrises and sunsets.
A stream of well-dressed women, men and children are walking, and sometimes skipping, past the egg lady along the shoulder of the highway to town. Any other day and they would be carrying sacks or holding bundles of famous Bolga baskets or live guinea fowl to sell in the market.
Today there is just one man carrying a guinea fowl, eager to sell on one of the few days of the year he can guarantee a good price. Otherwise no one is carrying any animals, baskets or sacks. Instead, shiny black purses are tucked under the armpits of women wearing flawlessly starched and ironed wax print cloth dresses and head wraps arranged in functional, simple styles. Men are wearing the traditional smock of this area – woven colourful strips of cloth – or smart, collared shirts and pressed trousers. Little girls parade puffy pink taffeta dresses and sandals with socks, while boys wear suit pants and an ironed shirt or a miniature version of the traditional men’s smock.
Those who can afford it are whizzing past in taxis, or in their own vehicle, or on the back of motorbikes, babies wrapped on their mother’s backs, and two or three children straddling the seat behind and in front.
They’re heading to church, the highlight of the day. The church service will last between three to six hours, depending on the denomination.
After church, most families enjoy a modest celebration in their family compounds in the company of relatives who manage to make it home for Christmas. Mothers will prepare rice with chicken and tomato stew. Chicken and guinea fowl are annual treats for most. If they’re very well off, they may kill a goat or even a dog. Bolgatanga has Ghana’s one dog market and man’s best friend faces the same fate as turkey and geese on Christmas Day in Bolgatanga.
My Ghanaian husband and I will spend the day in the company of friends visiting from abroad and other parts of Ghana. We have stocked up on mozzarella cheese from the one store in town that stocks real cheese and we shall prepare homemade pizzas with local garden eggs, a small relative of the aubergine, and tomatoes. We will even make the dough ourselves. And we’ll wash it down with a chilled Star or Guinness beer, or perhaps a sip of pito, a fermented brew made from sorghum. Later we’ll indulge in chilled watermelon and coconut fruit salad. It’s Christmas, after all.