Swap your traditional Christmas celebrations with a volunteer experience in Ghana, and you’ll have a meaningful trip abroad. Plus, you’ll get the chance to see how Christmas is celebrated in another country.
With Christmas being one of the biggest festivities across the world, experiencing the celebration in another country can open up your worldview in a big way. It’ll help you gain an appreciation for your own traditions, as well as give you valuable insight into the traditions of communities abroad.
Here’s what you can expect if you volunteer in Ghana over Christmas.
How is Christmas celebrated in Ghana?
Christmas festivities in Ghana begin on 20 December and last until the first week of January. This religious festival coincides with Ghana’s end-of-year cocoa harvest, adding to the celebratory atmosphere in the country.
Local people who work far from home return to their families this time of year. And in schools, it’s common to find children making Christmas ornaments from crepe paper.
On Christmas Eve, you can spot an outdoor parade, led by local musicians, in many of Ghana’s bigger cities. And church services, where children present a nativity play or other festive drama, are also a big part of how Ghanains celebrate this holiday. It’s also common to hear church-goers singing traditional Christmas carols until late into the night.
With over 66 languages spoken in the country, you’re bound to hear variations of carols you recognise, as well songs you’d never have heard of before visiting Ghana.
For the Christmas Day church service, people dress up in colourful traditional clothes. Afterward, young children receive chocolates, cookies or new clothes from Father Christmas before heading home for a festive family meal.
The traditional Ghanaian Christmas spread includes dishes made of rice, chicken, goat, lamb, fufu and other Ghanaian staples.
Fufu is a starchy side, which is often made from mixing and pounding cassava – a potato-like vegetable – with a powdered green plantain, which is a fruit very similar to a banana. The two are mixed to make a paste that is then cooked.
Dressed in traditionally colorful attire, residents of Cape Coast celebrate in the city.
Facts about the traditional Ghanaian Christmas celebration
Father Christmas is well-known by children across the world. In most countries, his main attributes are his long white beard and cherry-red suit – but not in Ghana.
Ghanaian children know Father Christmas, or Papa Bronya, as someone who wears sandals and a beautiful red robe trimmed with gold. His outfit is completed with a traditional patterned sash and a white cloak with a hood.
Another difference is Father Christmas’s gifts. Instead of leaving behind toys, Ghanaian children often receive treats to eat.
Christmas trees in Ghana
While Christmas trees are popular in many cultures, they are not a common sight in Ghanaian homes.
Local people would rather use their money to buy more food for their Christmas Eve and Christmas Day feasts, than on a Christmas tree.
You will usually only find decorated trees at large hotels or shopping malls. You might also spot a community tree in the centre of the town. These trees are usually decorated with colourful paper ornaments that children create for their homes and schools.
If you’re volunteering in Ghana over Christmas, you could easily gain a few extra pounds!
Over the festive season, it’s common to eat around four to five meals a day, as well as snacks in between.
With so much extra food going around, it’s easy to become an “obolo” – a term used to describe a person who gains weight in a short period of time.
Even if some families don’t have the means for regular meals, neighbours and friends often invite each other to join in on a set buffet throughout the two-week celebrations in December.
A GVI staff member browses a selection of fresh fruit in a market in Cape Coast, Ghana.
Funerals during Christmas in Ghana
It’s unusual to see a funeral held in Ghana over the Christmas period.
The period of festivity is all about spreading love, joy, and the celebration of life. So most funerals are put on hold until after the celebrations.
How to wish Ghanaians a merry Christmas
During the festive season, people in Ghana often say “Afishapa” to one another. The phrase comes from one of the country’s most commonly-spoken languages, Akan, and translates to “Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.”
Children also run around on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day shouting, “Egbona hee, egogo vo”, which means: “Christ is coming, he is near.”
Where are the biggest Christmas celebrations in Ghana?
Accra, the capital city of Ghana, boasts the largest Christmas celebrations in the country. However, you’ll also find festivities taking place in other towns such as Kumasi, Tamale, Cape Coast, and Ashaiman.
Christmas volunteering in Ghana
Participants work on developing computer literacy skills as part of a program in Ghana.
One of the best ways to experience Christmas in Ghana is to sign up for a volunteering program.
You’ll get to make an impact over the Christmas season, and have the opportunity to take part in the local festivities during your stay. It’s an excellent way to immerse yourself in a new culture and make the most of your Christmas break.
Zaytoen Domingo is a content writer and editor based in Cape Town, South Africa. She is currently enrolled in the Masters program in English at the University of the Western Cape. After graduating with an Honours Degree in English and Creative Writing, Zaytoen completed a skills-development program for writers and became an alum of the GVI Writing Academy.