Since coming to Ghana in December 2008 we have spent four out of five Christmas’s here. The only one we were back in the UK for was in 2009 for Caspar’s birth.
That Christmas gave us an insight as to how both the best and worst of Christmas can look.
The best thing about Christmas at home (and when I say home in this instance I mean in the UK) is the whole feeling of build up and excitement; the decorations, wrapping – both yourself and presents, carols, food, family, anticipation, church, get togethers and wonderment that fills the air.
The bad is the materialism, marketing, obscene amounts of money spent, the waste (wrapping, food), the dumbing down of the whole religious meaning. The wonder you see in a child’s eye, whilst charming and delightful, can turn in an instant as they unwrap another present only to discard it immediately to open the next, looking for the holy grail of presents. Not a pretty sight and in fact embarrassing when the child/children in question is/are yours.
In Ghana it’s almost totally the reverse.
There is no build up (other than an increase in noise), no wrapping presents, singing carols or Christmas decorations (this is changing and we’ve seen more over the years), no traditional meal and other festive food that I know of, no spending the whole day with families, no stockings or presents.
What they do have is more church, hence the increase in noise. The year we were managing Stumble Inn we noticed on our drive through Elmina on Christmas day that it was business as usual with people still opening their stalls, doing their washing etc. Last year we even had a visit from the ‘Banana’ lady who walks around this area selling her bananas. Basically life goes on but there is a huge acknowledgment of the religious side of Christmas and churches will be bulging and going long into the night/early morning.
The fantastic thing about being here is that there is no commercialism that surrounds Christmas, no pushy marketing, no materialistic wants, no high expectations leading to (at times) disappointments. We are away from all of that and we have noticed what a difference it has made to our children.
They still get hugely excited and Father Christmas does come to Elmina despite no chimney (a concern for Barnaby). They wrote him letters full of every Lego model conceivable, as well as asking him for crocs, pants and socks! I did think there might be a problem with the obvious abandon in which they added to their Father Christmas list and did warn them that he may not give them everything, or indeed anything from it, but I’m sure that he would give them things that they would like. As it was I didn’t hear one complaint, only joy and delight from sticker books to the toothpaste that they did receive, oh yes, and some crocs, pants and socks!
Presents are wrapped and put under our plastic tree. This was bought last year and I must say I love having it, it actually makes me feel a little more Christmassy and the kids love to decorate it. This year it was all their doing and is slightly random! Last year we had tons of presents as my father in law had brought lots out from the family, already wrapped and ready to sit under the tree. This year I had gifts from two other people (Grandparent’s and a friend), and the rest I’d bought myself on my last visit to the UK, so a lot less but still a substantial amount.
It has become tradition in our family (all of two years!) to open a present a day. This sounds pretty harsh but in reality it couldn’t be better. Each present is opened and actually played with and appreciated for more than the few seconds it takes to normally dive into the next one! Even an umbrella they each received this year was played with over and over again, despite there being no rain. It’s amazing what role an umbrella can be given (they are great umbrellas though making an animal noise and flashing)!. I did have to take them away in the end as I was worried they might get broken. One of the boys received a pair of shoes and was delighted with them, saying ‘thank you so much Mummy and Daddy, it’s just what I wanted’. I can’t help feeling that if he’d opened them with everything else he may have been a little more dismissive or possibly disappointed that it had not been a toy. Or maybe I’m underestimating him. There is then the excitement of being able to open another present when they wake up the next day!
Our day was not unlike most days here, but what was different was that we were altogether and no one had to go and fix cars, sit at a computer, do washing or other everyday stuff. Aubrey cooked a huge brunch with sausage and mushrooms in the mix (both hard to come by)! We had bought bacon but when we opened the packet it was quite clearly bad, which was a little frustrating seeing as the eat by date was well into January. No matter!
We were going to go to Church as we did last year.
That was an interesting experience a year ago. Advertised as starting at 7.30am, people were still turning up at 9am and it didn’t finish until 10.30am. Barnaby kept spotting Mary – ‘look Mummy there’s Mary’, oh and ‘there she is’, and ‘how did she get there so quickly’? These were all women ‘helpers’ and choristers wearing blue robes, no matter that they were all different women. He then went on to asking if Jesus had been born yet and where was he and could they go and see him in the manger. The offertory (we are Catholic) was quite a display of Wheetabix, Ribena, onions, pineapples, trays of eggs, as well as the usual bread and wine.
There was lots of singing and swaying and far too many collections which take ages as everyone dances up the aisle to put their money into the box. I was surprised that out of an audience of what seemed like 300, only about 50 went up for communion, leading me to think that most of the congregation hadn’t actually taken their first holy communion.
This year we were rather delayed and didn’t go to Church. If I’m honest, I missed it. I feel it is an important part of Christmas. What I made sure we did was to sit together as a family and read from a children’s bible the story of Christmas and talk about the meaning of Christmas. We also each talked about something we were going to try and be better at (or do less of) in the future.
The rest of the day was spent playing with Father Christmas’s gifts and the one present that they opened (Lego of course for the bigger boys!) and was rounded off by roast pork, roast veggies and some broccoli (frozen, kindly left by Soph and Dom when they were here!). We even had crackers, party poppers and hooters. We also managed to have another cooker crisis! Last year it was that the cooker could only cook at a very low heat. The chicken last year went in at 11am and was ready by 5pm! It wasn’t even a whole chicken but pieces! This year, a new cooker, but it short circuited half way through cooking and Aubrey had to test his electrician skills to fix it otherwise it was going to be no Christmas dinner for us! It all worked out perfectly in the end.