I have loved Christmas celebration since my childhood days but must admit that Christmas celebration has changed tremendously over the years. Some years ago, the changes in weather provided the early signs of an approaching Christmas and that reminded parents of their responsibilities to their families especially children.
When we were children, Christmas brought us a lot of joy and we looked forward to the approaching Christmas with great expectations and anxiety, recognising that it was the most important thing that happened to us in the year.
It was common for every child to have a new dress, shoes, Christmas hat and goggles to match. We built Christmas huts with friends and enjoyed some gifts from other relatives who had travelled home from big cities for Christmas celebrations.
There was a lot to eat and drink during Christmas festivities. Neighbours exchanged gifts that were normally delivered early in the morning in the season and the gifts were arranged and covered in special ways to fit the importance of Christmas.
Family members who were expected to spend the Christmas at home were hailed with a big “ Akwaaba” when they arrived, whilst children rushed to collect the luggage of our uncles and aunts from the big cities in the hope that their bags contained some Christmas gifts for us. There was joy in hailing our relatives who had come home to celebrate Christmas and if they came with their children, that added to the joys of children.
It was a common practice for families to breed fowls at home in the year purposely for Christmas and children enjoyed the sport of chasing homebred fowls that attempted to escape being slaughtered for Christmas meals. We knew the importance of these homebred fowls in the Christmas celebration and we hunted for these fugitive fowls with zeal until we caught them.
We engaged in communal eating during the Christmas season and food was shared among families, which helped all of us to enjoy the Christmas meals equally. The celebration of Christmas was joyous, special and beautiful. Christmas was real fun with people, children, relations and the people-to-people contacts helped us to build strong social bonds, peace and harmony which are the very principles underlying the celebration of Christmas.
The Christmas we used to enjoy was people centred. An approaching Christmas can be felt by the cold, dry, foggy weather and most importantly, the Christmas carols that heralded Christmas.
For us children, Christmas was the season for us to enjoy sumptuous meals, especially rice and chicken stew. In those days , rice and chicken was special food ate on special occasions and the fowls used in preparing the food were mainly home bred ones or broilers purposely raised for the Christmas season by local Poultry farmers.
These days of imported Chicken parts, rice and stew is no longer a special meal associated with Christmas. In a country where regulation is weak, consumers of the imported chicken have no idea about how long the imported chicken might have stayed on the shelves in their home countries. Those were the days when the poultry business flourished and poultry farmers were highly respected business people in Ghana. Companies such as Darko Farms were highly respected local businesses that provided Day Old Chicks to feed the poultry industry in Ghana.
Things have changed for the worse and we unashamedly import chicken parts and Day old chicks from other countries. We do not seem to know why we could produce our poultry needs in the past but have supervised the death of the poultry industry even as we boast of technological advancement.
Just check your Christmas meals this season and you would be surprised about the extent of foreign control over your meals. Your Christmas meal may be prepared with imported chicken from Brazil, onions and tomatoes from Burkina Faso, corned beef from Egypt, Rice from Thailand and fruits such as grapes from Europe.
The Christmas celebration would increase the profits of farmers in foreign countries and provide jobs for their people. Christmas celebration has pecuniary consequences. This is an era of foreign control of everything good in Ghana. No wonder the people who feed us want to attach the most bizarre condition to aid even when for each dollar they give us they take away $6.
During the Christmas festivities, we constructed Christmas huts from palm fronds. Children competed among themselves in the construction and decoration of the Christmas huts and sung folk music in the huts accompanied by accoutrements made from bamboos.
The elders in the neighbourhood visited our Christmas huts to encourage us and the most well organised group earned more pesewas than others did. As we played together and performed tasks, we learnt lessons of team building and social networking.
Our childhood friends have been able to sustain a certain support network. The memories of constructing Christmas huts together and the childhood pranks have knit us together as brothers and sisters to date.
Looking back, I could not imagine that Christmas celebration would change so much in our lifetime. Communal and person-to-person celebrations of Christmas have been replaced with technology such as Skype, text messages, telephone calls, Facebook etc.
We no longer deem it necessary to travel home to be in contact with our people during Christmas. Even when we live in the same city with relatives and friends, it is just enough to text a Christmas message to many people or call to wish them Merry Christmas. In most cases, the same Christmas message would be sent to hundreds of people no matter the variations in social relations.
The change in the Christmas is not only about the celebration, but also the foggy, cold dry weather that had long been associated with the Christmas season has changed. Is it a confirmation of the much talked about climate change caused by our poor stewardship of the environment?
How about the Christmas carols that filled the atmosphere with sweet music, which is unique to the Christmas season. In days gone by, Christmas carols filled the atmosphere with a Christmas message of the birth of the Prince of Peace from October and the music was incessant throughout the Christmas season.
Our children no longer have the opportunity to enjoy the communal celebration of Christmas. We cannot blame them much because our society is gradually becoming a hi-tech society and people communicate more through mobile phones, iPad, SKYPE and Facebook than personal contacts.
We are drifting more and more to automation and individualism. The lack of exposure of our children to other dimensions of life makes it difficult for the youth to fit into the real world situation of multidimensional challenges. No wonder that our children lean towards the Western individualistic life, which we ignorantly believe is a more superior way of life.
My late mother did something remarkable that had a lasting influence on my life. When she realised that we were becoming too urbanised, she sent us to our grandfather’s village located in a thick forest to spend long vacations and Christmas holidays.
On the first day of our arrival in the village, we had a horrendous night of screams and hoots of the owl, which made us to shiver throughout the night. The nightmare with the owl nearly sent us packing off to the city the next day.
Christmas affords us the opportunity to think about our folks in the village, the poor, underprivileged, widows, and the aged. We have lost our communal spirit that ensured that both the haves and have-nots had a taste of the joy that Christmas brings. Let us bring back the communal celebration of Christmas by sharing with others. It is only by sharing with others that Christmas becomes meaningful.
As has always been the case, we have had good times and bad times in the year. In good or bad circumstances, the year has gone full circle to meet us and we should be thankful to God. Let us extend the joy of Christmas to other people, especially those who may not be privileged like us. Above all, let us use Christmas to reflect on our actions that have worsened the poverty of the underprivileged in the past year and then resolve to make amends in the coming year.“Afehyiapa”.
By Daniel Owusu-Koranteng