As a normal,red-blooded American, I love Christmas. I especially love a white Christmas, as I was born and raised in the north! My memories of Christmas growing up are quite magical. I remember snow, sledding, ice skating, tubing, shoveling, and building snowmen. I remember wearing sweaters, heavy coats, snowpants, gloves, scarves, hats, and boots. Now, of course, I knew those particular things would not be the same when I moved to Ghana...but I never realized how different Christmas would be!
As I was growing up, I remember reading, hearing, and watching stories of Christmas "around the world." I assumed that everybody everywhere must celebrate Christmas! I guess I didn't pay much attention to the fact that most of the countries talked about in those "Christmases around the world" were all European countries or countries with heavy Catholic influences. Boy, was I in for a surprise!
Our first Christmas here holds quite a few memories for me...
Of course, we don't celebrate Thanksgiving here - that is strictly an American holiday! That means that we don't have Black Friday here, either. In fact, the first of December came and went, and nothing here seemed to indicate that Christmas was coming! No Christmas music on the radio, no decorations in town, no Christmas decorations to buy, and no signs of holiday sales anywhere! I was starting to get nervous...didn't these people know that Christmas was coming?!?
As I've stated before, we brought very few possessions with us when we moved here, so we had almost nothing to decorate with for Christmas. I began to get really worried. What were we going to do?
Finally, around the middle of December, we began to see some things in town that sort of looked like Christmas decorations. Everything was shiny and flashy and a variety of colors, not the traditional red and green or blue and silver that I was used to, but it was decorations! Our single "department store" was even selling Christmas trees! (Take that department store idea with a grain of salt, by the way!) Anyways, we bought the biggest tree they had for $20! We were quite pleased with our purchase until we walked outside and someone complimented us on our Christmas bush!!!
When we got home we started to decorate. We finally found a box to set our tree on so that it looked a little taller. We then decorated it with the two strands of lights we'd bought. They were these little tiny "rice lights," and they blinked! Except, they didn't blink in a normal way, they seemed to have a mind of their own!
We made some ornaments out of paper, and we had a few that the missionary had left for us. We made paper snowflakes to hang on the walls and got out the lone Christmas decoration I'd thought to bring, our little nativity set.
Next, we needed stockings. John went looking for a tailor. He found a guy who said he could sew us some stockings if John would draw him a picture of one. When we went to get them a few days later, we were a little surprised. They were made out of leftover tie-dyed material, and they were very square - like big "L's"! I guess we shouldn't have expected much more since the man had never heard of or seen a Christmas stocking until we came along!
A few days before Christmas, a package arrived from John's family and one arrived from my family. Along with some wonderful gifts, there were candy canes! Those completed our tree!
I was still feeling a little sorry for myself until the Sunday before Christmas. Some little boys from the neighborhood came over early to catch a ride to church. When they walked into that little room where our Christmas tree was, I thought their eyes would bug out! You would have thought that they were looking at the tree in front of Rockefeller Center! They were in complete shock. They just sat and stared at the tree! And that's when I found out that Christmas in Ghana is not the same as Christmas in America.
Very few people here have Christmas trees or decorations of any kind. The only gifts given are to the children. They each receive a set of "Sunday" clothes and shoes that they will have to wear for church for the next year. If the family can afford it, they buy things for Christmas dinner. That means a live chicken to be slaughtered and fried, the ingredients for African fried rice, a box of English biscuits (dry, hard little cookies), and one liter of Coke for the entire family.
After that little episode with the boys, I began to look at our Christmas tree and our entire Christmas in a whole new light. What a lesson Enoch, Williams, and Israel taught me that day. They taught me that it doesn't really matter what you do or don't have for Christmas...what matters is that we have a Christmas to celebrate!