Christmas traditions: It's for 'celebrating and joy'

·4 min read

Agnes Okonmah views Christmas time as an opportunity to reflect and see whether there’s anything in her life she could do better to spread love and help those around her.

For her, Christmas is a time of giving and sharing love.

“I pray that I will be in better health and better position to keep helping people just like Christ did," she said. "The best part of Christmas is being alive and having another chance to reflect on what I have done and what I need to do more.”

Okonmah was born in Nigeria and grew up in Ghana. She now lives in Timmins with her family and works as an office manager for the Good Samaritan Inn in South Porcupine.

Each year, Okonmah chooses a different theme for her indoor Christmas decorations. Last year, her Christmas tree and decorations were in burlap and red. This year, the dominant colours are green and white, representing spring and hope.

“I see this 2020 as a 'fall' considering all that is going on and I’m hoping that in 2021, we’re going to spring up and that is what the green stands for," she said. “As I always believe that at the end of the tunnel there’s hope.”

Most Christmases, Okonmah invites newcomers, especially of African descent, to her house although with the pandemic regulations this year, she won’t be able to welcome anyone.

Instead, her family, including her husband and three sons, will spend it catching up and discussing what’s going on in their lives and how they can help each other.

Most Christmas traditions in Ghana and Nigeria overlap, Okonmah said.

In both countries, it's a family event when a lot of family members come together and have fun. Most families travel from big cities to their home villages to visit their grandparents or older relatives for a family reunion. Those born in urban areas are able to learn some family traditions during this period.

Homes and streets are often decorated, and many households will have an artificial Christmas tree. On Christmas Eve, people throw parties that can last all night long. On top of serving turkey, Nigerians may also include sheep, goat, ram or chicken. Other dishes include pounded yam, jollof rice, stew, a salad or fried rice.

Celebrations in Ghana start Dec. 20 and last until the first week of January.

People go to church on Christmas Eve where they may watch a Nativity play, performed by children, listen to a choir and have singing competitions among various choirs.

Churches are full on Christmas Day and people dress up in their best traditional attires. After church on Christmas morning, people go home to exchange gifts. Traditional dishes include stew or okra soup, porridge made from yam or cocoyam, meats, jollof rice, fufu and light soup.

Wearing a new dress on Christmas is an essential part of celebrating Christmas. People can wear traditional or Western clothing, mostly new attire for those who can afford. To get a traditional dress in Nigeria or Ghana, people go to a tailor’s shop where they can choose traditional designs and fabrics.

“I make sure I have different dresses every Christmas,” Okonmah said. “This is who I am. I like to dress up, this makes me feel good ... We say we're going to church to show our dresses to God who has been so kind to provide for us."

Another aspect of Ghanaian traditions is refraining from holding funerals during Christmas. If a person dies around that time, a funeral will be postponed until after Christmas.

“Ghanaians believe Christmas is for celebrating and joy, not for sad events,” Okomnah explained.

Okonmah’s best memory from her childhood is waiting for dancers who’d wear masks and go around houses dancing during an annual Fancy Dress Festival.

Most Ghanaians also go to church on New Year's Eve to pray for a good and safe new year.

“Some may use that time to remember those who died during the previous year and pray that the difficulties that they may have encountered over the year don’t carry into the new year,” Okonmah said.

Dariya Baiguzhiyeva, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter,