28 December 2010- 1 January 2011
I had never celebrated Christmas or New Year before in India. I, not being Christian, not following the Gregorian Calendar religiously and my country India being predominantly Hindu, these events have never been major for me. Having found myself amongst a big group of volunteers from Western culture, i.e. UK, America and Europe, I could enjoy these occasions with them and know a lot about these festivals.
As the area in which I am living, majority of its population follows Christianity, I was very much curious about how Christmas is being celebrated here. It turned out that traditional beliefs are still strong here and Christmas takes a second place because most of the traditional festivals also fall during the same period.
Most of the volunteers having a long vacation for the Christmas, had plans to celebrate the Christmas either in their respective home countries or go for some touring around in Ghana or some other countries. The volunteers here in Bolgatanga decided to celebrate Christmas together before time and there were two parties celebrated.
First party was celebrated as St. Nicholas Day. It is a festival from northern Europe and not much celebrated in UK or North America. Sharing and exchange of gifts and family gatherings are the main features of the day. The volunteers in Bolgatanga gathered in one of the volunteers house. Everybody, as it always happens in the parties of the people with western culture, was expected to bring their food and drinks. There was sharing of food. The hosts of the party, Hannah and Olke, had prepared Mould Wine and Dutch Soup respectively. Hannah is British, and Mould Wine she had made, consists of wine boiled with pieces of fruits. Olke is Dutch and she had prepared the traditional Dutch soup which was made from various unidentifiable spices (as most of them were not Indian), spinach and sausage. Both of these specialities were completely new to me and were very delicious.
What followed was the Christmas trivia game, where there was a quiz consisting questions about Christmas, Jesus and his birth etc. I was the only non Christian person in the whole group, but it turned out that many people, not following the Christian beliefs, knew little about those things. There was a gift exchange game as well. Each was supposed to bring a small gift with proper wrappings so that they could not be identified at the first sight. St. Nicholas is supposed to bring the gifts to the children (similar to Santa Claus). There were no children around but all the volunteers ready with gifts. Hannah performed the role of St. Nicholas and brought the bag full of gifts. Each one chose a gift, I ending up with a pine apple.
Major fun started afterwards, however, as the exchange started. A story was selected and read out loudly. Each one was given a particular word from the story. The rule was that as the particular given word appeared in the story, the person who was given that word had a chance to snatch the gift from any other person and exchange his gift with that person. I exchanged my pineapples with a small children's play keyboard and I could retain it with me through the entire game and irritate other people by playing it discordantly. I had contributed with the gift of Shea butter pomade and the person who ended with that gift was not particularly happy about it and I could not help that.
The another party was arranged on the next weekend and it was not exactly Christmas party but was celebrated with that mood. We had barbecue and hat day on that day. Rose, Louise and Rachel did the hard work of organizing the things as this time, no food was to be brought but everybody was supposed to contribute money. I tried my hand at the barbecue this time and gained some experience in roasting meat and vegetables using charcoal fire. There was again a large gathering of people and some people came with really funny hats.
The last party was on the new year's evening i.e. 31st December. We were only 5 people there as most of them had travelled. I was tired because of the weakness which I carried because of my recent illness with malaria and lot of movements in the town but somehow I could manage myself to remain awake up to 12:00 in the midnight. Everybody (except me) took a sip of whiskey and new year was welcomed with some people going online and wishing new year to others on Facebook.