HALLELUJA….! Once again, the air is filled with the usual festive digs and happy swings and sweet thrills of Christmas. Yes, in comes the yearly Merry, Merry Christmas… Buronya!
Come Tuesday evening, which is Christmas eve, now popularly known as ‘24th’; and you can get the real feel of Ghanaian Christmas. From the cities down to remote villages, you will often see palm fronds woven into festooned arches that stand astride door posts, sometimes stuck with cheery flowers which seem to say: Afenhyia-pa…. Afenhyia-pa….. Afenhyia-pa oh!
The custom of decorating houses with palm fronds is even given a livelier touch by young village children who make their own make-shift huts with palm branches wherein they make chapels with palm leaves and uprooted young trees. There they sing Christmas song and play-act Christmas worship; and explode carbide ‘bomb’ made in empty milk cans. One, two, three, they explode –‘boom… boom…. Boom’, followed by shrill childish shout of; Yieeeeh….. Buronya-oh, Buronya-oh! That’s village Christmas with village crackers!
In cities and urban towns, a similar decoration custom(though a little sophisticated) obtains in various houses and offices. Within these places, you can see artificial fir trees embedded with smallish electric bulbs of red, green, blue, yellow, pink, mauve and what-have-you colours. And these lights sparkle and wink and sparkle, sometimes streaking up in a quick shine, only to go off; and sparkling again in smiling staccato; all to gladden your heart.
But the decoration custom has it history and interpretation to tell. It is said that in the 8th century AD, a Roman Catholic priest called Boniface (now St. Boniface) travelled from England to Germany where he converted several heathen Germans to Christianity.
On one Christmas eve, he cut down a sacred oak tree (in Geismar town) which was previously worshipped by German pagans. That greatly offended them. But surprisingly when Boniface offered to them a young fir tree in place of the oak tree, as a symbol of the new faith –Christianity –which he preached, the angry Germans accepted it without question. Most of them became converted Christians. And their fir tree was yearly planted during Christmas to serve as a symbol of repentance and ‘crossing over to Christ’. Hence the use of the fir tree throughout Europe.
Later in the 16th century, Martin Luther added the custom of placing candlelight on top of the fir tree as an image of the starry heaven from which Christ came. In our modern era, the candlelight has given way to the lights of electric bulbs –yes, coloured ‘bulbils’ that sparkle amidst artificial fir trees. What indeed could be the meaning of the decorated fir tree sparkling with the luminous bulbs is really a controversial question. Can you guess it meaning? (Christmas controversial controversy number one)! As for the palm fronds, their evergreen texture is said to signify that when hope is dry, and dead, a person’s evergreen faith in Christ never makes him become despaired, but it becomes a catalyst propelling him to victory and prosperity. The custom of using palm fronds as home decoration is thus believed to be sign of renewal of one’s faith in Christ.
There is also a second custom –the tradition of singing carols during Christmas. According to historical sources, that tradition was introduced by St Francis of Assisi in the 13th century AD. Even though ordinary Latin hymns had, before then, been sung during Christmas, the carol, being a special, short, joyful hymn with its special Christmas message, suddenly became the vogue in Church music during Christmas.
It is most unfortunate over here in Ghana, the phenomenon of visitational carol-singing is gradually dying out. Whilst in the past, carol singers in small groups (or even choiristers) moved from door to door or house to house to sing for money in order to raise Church funds, one scarcely sees this in cities and urban towns. What could be the cause of the downslide of this customary practice in Ghana? Social? Economic? Or a case of cultural transformation? (Christmas controversial controversy number two)!
Next is the question of preparing a crèche in the church every Christmas, as introduced by the same St Francis. The crèche usually depicts a statuette of a baby born and placed in a manger with his mother Mary and foster-father Joseph, kneeling beside it on a hay ground, around which an ox, asses and the ‘three wise men’ about to present their gifts to the child. The scene is probably re-enacted to bring the real meaning of Christmas home.
But this has raised a lot of controversy. Whilst Roman Catholics who prepare Christmas crèche every year argue that the scene is merely symbolic of the Nativity, some Christians criticize it as amounting to idol worshipping of Christ –what they call Christolatry! Can this be true? (that’s Christmas controversial controversy number three)!
Anyway, aside of the other two customs of giving Christmas gifts or presenting Christmas dish of fufu and groundnut soup-bouilli (such as hen meat) to neighbours, and Christmas card to loved ones, there are two Biblical Christmas messages which are undoubtedly relevant to our moral and socio-political life.
The first is the message of humility. No one underscores this point more than Ellen White, in her book: “The Desire of Ages.” In it, she writes, “we marvel at the saviour’s sacrifice in exchanging the throne of heaven for the manger, and the companionship of adoring angels for the beast of the stall. Human pride and self sufficiency stood rebuked in His presence.”
For a happy son of God to leave His heavenly throne to come so low to be born as a human being to suffer hardships and disgrace, should teach humility to all, especially businessmen and political office holders whom God (or destiny) insists that they should accept to leave their high comfortable offices without fuss or worries and play their role as ordinary men for the good of the society, and in response to God’s design. It is only by willingly accepting to become low and humble that they will be raised by God again even to a higher status (Luke 14:11)
But to try to use juju and ritual-murder charms to retain one’s position or one’s high political influence and dignity in society is a sign of inhumility. And such evil deeds and tricks will soon be disgracefully exposed by God for all to see as a sign of severe punishment.
For, as Christ said: “there is nothing hidden that hall not be exposed….” (Matthew 10:26). Let us therefore learn to be humble to God’s will. It is a shame for some people to call themselves “Godly,” and rather continue to kill helpless women for the sake of juju for power! Shame!
The second message of Christmas –“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace and goodwill toward men” (Luke 2 :14) is one whose meaning has controversially been misunderstood from its Latin transliteration. It is argue to mean two things: “peace on earth” and “goodwill towards men.” But that is wrong. Its French rendition solves the problem: “Et paix sur la terre parmi les homes qu’il agree.” (literally, “And peace on earth among men who agree,”) that is men who agree in faith in God and thus have God’s favour resting on them! It is these “men of goodwill” who shall see peace; but not all men!
Thus you can see why Africa is always at war and lacks peace: men who disagree in faith towards God –the satanic idol worshippers –are frequently injecting demonic covetousness and spiritual confusion into the society which spark off wars. Controversial? ….. No!
How I wish idolatrous men could receive the Christmas messages and become converted into men of goodwill so that all of us could court God’s favour which can bring peace in Africa.
Meanwhile, I wish all precious readers Merry, Merry Christmas! Afenhyia pa-o-o-oh!
By Apostle Kwamena Ahinful