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General News of Sunday, 24 December 2006

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In Ghana, Christmas season runs from December 20th to the first week in January. This coincides with the end of the cocoa harvest, the most prosperous time of the year, which contributes to the festive atmosphere.

Ghanaians who labor far from home, in the cities, on cocoa farms, and in the mines, return home for the holiday to spend it with family and friends. Houses, schools, and vehicles are decorated with paper ornaments and crepe paper. On Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, families and friends gather to feast on rice, chicken, goat, lamb and "fufu" (a cassava-plaintain paste)

On Christmas Eve there's often an outdoor procession, perhaps led by local musicians. On Christmas Eve and Day people go caroling house-to-house, singing traditional carols in one of Ghana's 66 local languages. Christmas Eve and Christmas Day services feature carols and retellings of the Christmas story. After church, children get small gifts from "Father Christmas", perhaps sweets, new clothes or a diary. People say Afishapa to one another, using an Akan (a major Ghanaian language) word that translates to "Merry Christmas & Happy New Year".

Father Christmas

The children of Ghana might find it difficult to relate to the harsh cold of the North Pole, so their "Father Christmas" arrives instead from the tropics to play his part in the Christmas festivals.

His gifts are simple - good things to eat mostly - but his outfit is very elegant. Sandals peek out from under his bright red robe trimmed in golden fabric.

A traditional African patterned sash unites the colors of his outfit, and he wears a pale-colored cloak with a hood over his red cap. While "Father Christmas" is a holdover from Ghana's colonial days, this was the first Black African country to gain its independence. Thus the people there have chosen the traditions they wish to keep from among the European customs, and expanded to encompass their own.

In Ghana the Christmas festival includes a special, religious service after which young people are given imported chocolates, and cookies and crackers prepared especially for this event. These are said to come from "Father Christmas". Christmas also coincides with harvest time for cocoa, which also is generally known as a time of abundance and good cheer. Friends and relations travel to visit each other, celebrate the Christmas story, and share a wonderful feast.