Monday, December 15, 2008

Christmas: A view from Ghana

Apart from the half-affected Christmas decorations in the malls, the seemingly ever present 'Christmas box' that have now taken on a permanent appearance at the counters of of shops - as well as at the guard house in the estate where I live! - the only other reminder of Christmas seems to be the millions of baskets lining either side of the Spintex Road where the basket weavers ply their trade. I am really not feeling Christmassy, and no am not a Scrooge, but yes, just remembered that it has been a long time since I have spent Christmas at home.

The downside about not living at home (i.e. Jamaica) is that you miss all the important events - birthdays, weddings, newborns and the holidays that bring the family together. Easter and Christmas are always the most difficult times, and though my view on Christmas is 'out of Ghana' it is decidedly going to be about what I miss most about Christmas in Jamaica.

Christmas breeze
already in November there is a coolness in the air that us Jamaicans refer to as Christmas breeze. It actually gets quite cool and usually this seems to act as a confirmation that even though it won't be white,
Christmas is just around the corner. On this side of the globe, the Harmattan commonly associated with this time of the year, is anything but cooling.

Another tell-tale sign is the house painting! For some reason - and I am not sure why - this is the time of the year when most houses receive a new coat of paint. New curtains are also a must in many houses. Still remember going shopping with my Mother for dining room curtains, living room curtains, bed room curtains, kitchen curtains, and just in case spare curtains.

Christmas cake in Jamaica is not to be joked about! Is a serious thing! Fruits are soaked from the year before, the aged marinade of rum and wine giving an additional kick to the already festive season. My mother's Christmas cakes are legendary and two weeks before the Day, the kitchen would be full of lined tins, mouthwatering batter and the smell of Christmas cake that was just unmistakable! To borrow a popular Ghanaian phrase you could hear the scent from a mile or two away. It would welcome you home in the evenings as you return from work/school leading you by the nostrils up the long winding drive-way long before you even entered the house itself. Have had my fruits soaking since last year -though nearly had to fire my househelp when I came home one day to see her just about to dash whey mi bokkle wid the fruits dem. Suffice to say she now gives the bottles a wide berth!

Linked to the cake baking is the licking of the spoon! Yes, forget salmonella - hmm, perhaps neutralized by the amount of rum - as children we would literally fight for who got the almost Olympian trophy to retreat and enjoy in a corner of the house while everyone else complained. Baking over, another test of patience was to see the cakes emerge from the oven knowing that it would not be cut until Christmas day. Two weeks of wetting the cake with a combination of red wine and rum - yes again! - and whetting your appetite because it just looked and smelled so good. As an adult, must admit that I still feel chuffed when I get the spoon - and yes, will compete with my daughter and nieces for it, and no, no apologies offered!

There are a couple of strange 'illness' associated with Christmas in our house, that should perhaps be defined as over indulgence or gluttony rather than an illness per se. One was 'pasam' best defined as the eating of hot baked products straight from the oven which was bound to result in a serious stomach ache. Another was 'colic' brought on by eating too much of everything and anything, and boy did we eat! Did get my first bout of colic the Christmas when I was about 11 - still remember being doubled up in my Grandmother's bed with her telling me 'it served me right' while soothing my by then distended gut with bay-rum.

Christmas time for us is not about presents, rather it is about presence. Relatives you haven't seen for most of the year will be certain to visit, including the ones you would prefer not to. Friends on their way to 'country' will stop by just to say hi and stay and lyme before continuing. It's that tim
e of the year when you always cook extra because you know people will be coming over. Even those years when I have missed Christmas in Jamaica my Mother will call to say ' you know so and so stop by the house' - she, like me, is chuffed, that they still come by to say hi, and of course get a piece of 'the' cake.

Poinsettias! For a plant that is usually drab the rest of the year, around Christmas time they are blood-red. At this time of the year there are blood-red - from gardens to Christmas baskets and floral arrangements the poinsettias are a must!

- for those of you who are Ghanaian bissap - is a trad
itional Christmas drink. Spiced with ginger, cloves and the ever present white rum - guaranteed to put hair on any one's chest! Argh!

Reggae Christmas Carols! I don't think I have ever been anywhere else and heard reggae Christmas carols but yes, they also make their appearance at this time of the year and there are many a Christmas party that have people skanking to the beats. You name the carol, will bet I can find the reggae version to it in a jiffy. After all this is Reggae Country! The name of the album cover to the left just about sums up the feeling of Christmas when it comes to music ' Natty and Nice'! Parties of course are the highlight of the agenda during this season.

And then there was the Pantomime - this always opened in December and was guaranteed to be full of music, animated acting and tons of laughter. Dating back over 40 years, this production attracted church trips, school trips and everything else in between. Hmm, this year's production is entitled 'Runner Boy' and is about Marcus who lives in the town of Yam Hill. He is chosen to represent his village - and his country - at the Big Lympics. Marcus of course wins and the villagers and the country celebrates along with him. Rings a bell? Am sure it does!

There is one thing that does keep the link though, and it's the appearance of Jonkunno on the streets of Kingston and elsewhere. Though not as popular as it was when I was younger, or when my Mother was a child, it is still an event associated with Christmas. Common figures like Pitchy-Patchy and Horse Head were guarantees for a nightmare be you young or even some of the old. Other figures would include Koo-koo or Actor Boy, Jack-in-the-Green, House Jonkunno, Police Man, Belly Woman and others. You can just imagine my amazement and amusement the first time I saw them in Accra! Found an interesting piece put together by the Jamaica Cultural Development Commission on Jonkunnos for those interested in reading more.

I could go on and on but yes, beginning to feel so sentimental! Must be a sign of old age! There it is - my view out of Ghana of Christmas in Jamaica. Must confess that while writing this I went started to search for the cheapest tickets home. Alas, alas cheap seems to be out of the question, And while I am sure Ashes and I will have a good holidays, can't help thinking it would have been so much better to have Christmas in Ja.

Picture credits
For more on the Jamaican Pantomime see the Little Theatre Movement


Nana Yaw Asiedu said...

Now, Denise, that's Christmas as I would love to experience once before I die. Maybe you'll even be in Ja then re the Christmas cake. Lovely read.

pablo said...

Spoon licking Hmmmmm is there any greater pleasure?i cone from a family of 5 so there was always competition but I was mummy's favourite so I have a little more than my fair share :D
Thank you for ressurecting those memories for me Denise

Beauty and the Green said...

This brings back so many good memories for me, especially the cake and Jonkunno, its the best!