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Friday, December 15, 2006

Christmas in Ghana

Mary Kay writes:

I am struck by the things that are the same about Christmas, amid the many differences.

The first thing we've noticed is the weather. While temperatures are dropping in Georgia, and days get shorter and shorter, here in Ghana it is actually getting warmer, with our highs in the 90s. The air is full of dust as the winds blow south from the Sahara, bringing harmattan. And the days are the same length year round, as we are on the equator.

But the stores are full of Christmas goodies - toys for the children, electronics for dad, jewelry and perfume for mom. Christmas ornaments, gift wrap and garlands of tinsel in every color imaginable are available amid the vegetable stalls in my local market. Christmas carols play on the radio and in the stores. The boys had a holiday concert at the school last night, and we will go to a service of Lessons and Carols at our local Methodist church next Sunday.

The church is decked out in purple altar cloth for Advent, but there is no Advent wreath to be lit, no Advent hymns that we have sung as yet. I find I miss the thoughtful strains of "Oh Come, Oh Come Emmanuel".

Many of our family traditions remain the same. We still light our Advent wreath, which had been carefully packed in tissue and bubble wrap to make the move, each evening and read a Christmas story as a family. We no longer sit by the fireplace, sipping hot chocolate, but that seems to be OK. Treasures ornaments made by little hands in numerous preschool and Sunday School classes still adorn our tree. We won't be able to drive up to Lake Lanier on Christmas Night for the Christmas lights, but we will have the chance to go explore a new part of Ghana during the break between Christmas and New Year's when Charlie's classes are out and the boys are on winter break. And my mother has sent us a jigsaw puzzle - a family tradition to set out and work over the holidays. We just will be watching soccer matches instead of bowl games while we work it. And the biggest difference is that Gramma and Grampa won't be here (this year, at least!) to work it with us.

Our nativity scene, which we have put out on the bookshelf where we hung our stockings (no mantel here!), was carved here in Ghana of local mahogany. The characters of the traditional story take on a new meaning for us, as we see the Wise Men are carrying the traditional symbols of an Ashanti king - a staff for the spokesman for the king, a machete for the body guard, and a calabash for the water bearer. And the shepherds look like Ghanaian goatherds from the north of the country. But the baby Jesus lying in the manger, is the same Jesus we wait for in the US.

So is Christmas different here in Ghana? Yes....but No. For at its heart, Christmas is about celebrating God's incredible gift to us in the birth of His son, Jesus. And that is why we are here in Ghana.

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