was the night before Christmas in Ghana and I was very sad because my family
life had been severely disrupted and I was sure that Christmas would never come.
There was none of the usual joy and anticipation that I always felt during the
Christmas season. I was eight years old, but in the past few months I had grown
a great deal.
this year I thought Christmas in my Ghanaian village came with many things.
Christmas had always been for me one of the joyous religious festivals. It was
the time for beautiful Christmas music on the streets, on radio, on television
and everywhere. Christmas had always been a religious celebration and the church
started preparing way back in November. We really felt that we were preparing
for the birth of the baby Jesus. Christmas was the time when relatives and
friends visited each other so there were always people traveling and visiting
with great joy from all the different ethnic groups. I always thought that was
what Christmas was all about. Oh, how I wished I had some of the traditional
food consumed at the Christmas Eve dinner and the Christmas Day dinner. I
remembered the taste of rice, chicken, goat, lamb, and fruits of various kinds.
The houses were always decorated with beautiful paper ornaments. The children
and all the young people loved to make and decorate their homes and schools with
colorful crepe paper.
us looked forward to the Christmas Eve Service at our church. After the service
there would be a joyous possession through the streets. Everyone would be in a
gala mood with local musicians in a Mardi Gras mood. Then on Christmas Day we
all went back to church to read the scriptures and sing carols to remind us of
the meaning of the blessed birth of the baby Jesus. We always thought that these
were the things that meant Christmas. After the Christmas service young people
received gifts of special chocolate, special cookies and special crackers.
Young people were told that the gifts come from Father Christmas, and this
always meant Christmas for us. They also received new clothes and perhaps new
pairs of shoes. Meanwhile throughout the celebration everyone was greeted with
the special greeting, "Afishapa," the Akan word meaning "Merry Christmas and
Happy New Year." Oh how I wish that those memories were real tonight in order to
bring us Christmas.
However, this Christmas Eve things were different and I knew Christmas would
never come. Every one was sad and desperate because of what happened last April
when the so-called Army of Liberation attacked our village and took all the
young boys and girls away. Families were separated and some were murdered. We
were forced to march and walk for many miles without food. We were often hungry
and we were given very little food. The soldiers burned everything in our
village and during our forced march we lost all sense of time and place.
Miraculously we were able to get away from the soldiers during one rainy night.
After several weeks in the tropical forest we made our way back to our burned
out village. Most of us were sick, exhausted, and depressed. Most of the
members of our families were nowhere to be found. We had no idea what day or
time it was.
was the situation until my sick grandmother noticed the reddish and yellow
flower we call "Fire on the Mountain" blooming in the middle of the marketplace
where the tree had stood for generations and had bloomed for generations at
Christmas time. For some reason it had survived the fire that had engulfed the
marketplace. I remembered how the nectar from this beautiful flower had always
attracted insects making them drowsy enough to fall to the ground to become food
for crows and lizards. We were surprised that the fire that the soldiers had
started to burn the marketplace and the village did not destroy the "Fire on the
Mountain" tree. What a miracle it was. Grandmother told us that it was almost
Christmas because the flower was blooming. As far as she could remember, this
only occurred at Christmas time. My spirits were lifted perhaps for a few
minutes as I saw the flower. Soon I became sad again. How could Christmas come
without my parents and my village?
could this be Christmas time when we celebrate the birth of the Prince of Peace
because since April we have not known any peace, only war and suffering? How
could we celebrate as grandmother instructed us to do before she died? Those
were the last words she spoke before she died last night. As I continued to
think about past joyous Christmases and the present suffering, we heard the horn
of a car and not just one horn but several cars approaching our village. At
first we thought they were cars full of men with machine guns so we hid in the
forest. To our surprise they were not soldiers and they did not have guns. They
were just ordinary travelers. It seemed the bridge over the river near our
village had been destroyed last April as the soldiers left our village. Since
it was almost dusk and there were rumors that there were land mines on the
roads, they did not want to take any chances. Their detour had led them straight
to our village.
they saw us they were shocked and horrified at the suffering and the devastation
all around us. Many of these travelers began to cry. They confirmed that
tonight was really Christmas Eve. All of them were on their way to their
villages to celebrate Christmas with family and friends. Now circumstances had
brought them to our village at this time on this night before Christmas. They
shared the little food they had with us. They even helped us to build a fire in
the center of the marketplace to keep us warm. In the middle of all this my
oldest sister became ill and could not stand up. A short time after we returned
to our village my grandmother told me that my oldest sister was expecting a
baby. My sister had been in a state of shock and speechless since we all
escaped from the soldiers.
so afraid for my sister because we did not have any medical supplies and we were
not near a hospital. Some of the travelers and the villagers removed their
shirts and clothes to make a bed for my sister to lie near the fire we had made.
On that fateful night my sister gave birth to a beautiful baby boy. This called
for a celebration, war or no war. Africans have to dance and we celebrated until
the rooster crowed at 6 a.m. We sang Christmas songs. Every one sang in his or
her own language. For the first time all the pain and agony of the past few
months went away. When morning finally came my sister was asked, "What are you
going to name the baby?" Would you believe for the first time since our village
was burned and all the young girls and boys were taken away, she spoke. She
said, "His name is "Gye Nyame," which means "Except God I fear none.""
And so we
celebrated Christmas that night. Christmas really did come to our village that
night, but it did not come in the cars or with the travelers. It came in the
birth of my nephew in the midst of our suffering. We saw hope in what this
little child could do. This birth turned out to be the universal story of how
bad things turned into universal hope, the hope we found in the Baby Jesus. A
miracle occurred that night before Christmas and all of a sudden I knew we were
not alone any more. Now I knew there was hope and I had learned that Christmas
comes in spite of all circumstances. Christmas is always within us all.
Christmas came even to our Ghanaian village that night.