I’m embarrassed to admit that this post has been sitting on my computer in an unfinished state for about a month. (Michelle, I am SO sorry! I MEANT to send you the Christmas in Nigeria info a long time ago, honest I did! Having it after Christmas doesn’t help much, I know, so I am very sorry!)
…But for what it’s worth, Christmas in Nigeria….. 😉 (…Although, interestingly enough, we’ve yet to actually SPEND a Christmas in Nigeria. Somehow we have been gone every year at Christmas time. Our first year living in Nigeria, we were unexpectedly able to go to Urbana. Last year we went back to the States for Jovelle’s birth, and this year we spent it in Northern Ireland. We are looking forward to spending Christmas in Nigeria one day, but for now, we will share a bit about the holiday season based on what our friends have told us and things we’ve observed leading up the day.)
The Christmas season kicks off at the beginning of December, when shopkeepers blast Christmas music on their speakers. Sarah hums Christmas music as she works, and when I look up and ask, “Is that ___?!” [insert Christmas song here], she says, “There is Christmas music everywhere! It must be in my head!”
Presents don’t seem to be that big of a deal, and when it is, it seems to be more because of Western influence.
Food, though, is a big deal, as is going to church and visiting people. Christmas Eve is not a big holiday like it is in the U.S. There is no big dinner or church service. In fact, often people will eat something quick – “just no rice!” Sarah says, because on Christmas day, there will be rice aplenty!
On Christmas Eve, food preparations begin for Christmas day. Women prepare large pots of joloff rice (No, like LARGE, probably wouldn’t fit on your stove, pots. Picture almost Halloween-like cauldrons over an open fire.) and make chin chin, a fried goodie made by African women who often don’t have ovens in which to bake things. Meat is also typically served on Christmas day, usually fried meat or chicken. Sarah insists, though, that no matter what is served, “Red stew and chin chin are compulsory.” (Joloff rice and chin chin seem to be common across the board, while red stew seems to be more of a personal preference.).
On Christmas day, families go to church to celebrate the birth of Jesus. There is loud singing and lots of dancing (though Sarah says that she and her family and friends have become quieter in recent years because of all the troubles in Jos). After church, the greeting begins. People go to visit their family and friends throughout the day, and the host provides bowls of rice, meat and chin chin to the guests. Most every house that’s visited would offer these foods, so it’s not considered rude to ask if you can take the rice with you if you’ve had your fill at other houses! (You may wonder, like I did, who’s home to visit if everyone is out visiting! Someone explained to me that greeting is usually done “up” socially – you would go to visit, for example, the church elders, who would stay home to receive visitors. Sometimes those who are wealthier and could afford to serve meat to all their visitors would stay home as well. This doesn’t mean, of course, that friends don’t go visit their friends – but this is one reason that going to visit someone at his or her house is seen as a great honor. Sometimes, Sarah says that groups of children will even go visiting as well.)
After a full day of church, singing, dancing, visiting and eating, people go home and, as Sarah says, collapse in exhaustion! Some things are the same no matter the culture!
The holiday festivities don’t end there, though. Because Nigeria was once an English colony, they celebrate Boxing Day. People celebrate in different ways, but one popular way to celebrate in Jos is to gather with lots and lots of people at the local polo field to watch, well, polo. A lunch is often packed, and people will spend the entire day and into the evening at the fields. The zoo and wildlife park here are also quite crowded.
People who don’t go back to their village for Christmas will often go back for a New Years’ celebration. The village that Sarah is from, for example, has traditional dancing on New Years’ day.
…But wherever you are in the world, and whatever traditions you have for the holiday season, may you celebrate the birth of Christ, and may you celebrate it with joy!