By Emmanuel Edukugho
AROUND Nigeria, although a multi-religious country, with an estimated population of 167 million, about 100 million people are expected to celebrate Christmas on December 25 which falls on a Tuesday this year, 2012. The bottomline is that those who celebrate Christmas to mark the birthday of Jesus Christ are basically Christians of all denominations — orthodox (Catholic), Anglican, Pentecostal, Methodist Baptist, Presbyterian, white-garment churches, Celestial, spiritual and others who belong to Christendom.
Even Moslems, African traditional worshippers, Oriental faith adherents, atheists, agnostics, free thinkers, and others tend to associate with Christmas celebration as the government usually declared public holidays for all and sundry irrespective of religious belief.
Why Christendom settled for each December 25 as the birthday of Jesus Christ has generated controversy over the years because there are no biblical or historical evidence or reasons to put the birth of Jesus on December 25.
According to legend, the origin of Christmas celebration can be traced back to pagan Rome where the people marked several festivals to honour Saturn, the agricultural god and the sun god.
Some Anthropologists in their writings have argued that like many pre-Christian customs and beliefs, the old feast marking the yearly return of the sun was rededicated to the birth of Jesus Christ.
Putting this antecedent aside, including the controversy over the date of Jesus’ birth, some believed it was in January, others holding to October, the fact is that most of mankind have now acknowledged and settled for December 25. Millions of people looked up to this date to celebrate Christmas – the birth of Jesus Christ with so much joy, happiness, fun, family togetherness, re-union of friends relatives, loved ones and even heal old wounds, bury old animosities and foster friendship. Even nations at war may cease fire during the yuletide period of Christmas.
As the Christmas season draws near, the atmosphere dramatically changes – ushering in the Christmas spirit of love, forgiveness, rejoicing, merry making, shopping for new clothes to wear especially children and young people, giving homes and buildings some facelift, decorative lightings for homes, exchange of gifts, greetings and felicitations through sending of Christmas cards.
Special songs, films, TV and Radio programmes are promoted in the spirit of Christmas, holidays are arranged, churches come out with activities – both spiritual social, humanitarian and so on to commemorate the event, highlighted by the joy of giving, helping the needy, underprivileged, disabled, poor homeless, disadvantaged, jobless, orphans , widows and even widowers. Those in prison, hospitals, at old people homes, remand homes, detention centres, pensioners are also made to have a taste of the Christmas season.
Because Jesus Christ helped the poor, hopeless, sick and afflicted, many people who are blessed, righteous and selfless tend to follow the example of Christ. So for such people and organisations, the best time to do that is Christmas.
However, in the context of the Nigerian situation, Christmas season is period of maximising profits for traders by increasing prices of goods, especially food items, hike in transport fares as many people would travel to their villages, towns and hinterlands to reunite with their families, fuel scarcity, rise in crime wave murder, armed robbery, ritual killings and kidnappings.
So many people are afraid to travel home because of insecurity. Apart from accidents that are common on the bad roads due to reckless driving, prohibitive transport fares, the most feared is the prevalence of kidnappers lurking around in towns and villages waiting to abduct prominent, wealthy individuals for payment of ransome.
Okey Nwonye is a successful electronic merchant in Lagos with two buildings in his village in Anambra. He told Saturday Vanguard when asked if he is travelling for the Christmas:
“I am not thinking of travelling to the village because there so many jobless youths there waiting to pounce on people from Lagos. Kidnappers on the prowl and when they know somebody who is a successful businessman has entered the village, they will swiftly organised to abduct the person. I cannot risk my life. I’ve sent money home to my aged parents to celebrate Christmas. But I won’t go home,” he said.
Insecurity has become a serious problem. Highway robbers are also waiting to attack travellers during the yuletide season. So a lot of people are scared to go on holiday. The police may not be able to adequately cope with this challenge.
Food prices are most likely to jump up during this season, considering the recent floods which devastated several homes and farmlands. Many workers may not have sufficient money in their pockets to celebrate Christmas. Some states have not fully paid the N18,000 minimum wage to workers, while several others are not paying bonus due to the economic recession throwing many people into the labour market. Already many towns and cities across the country are experiencing fuel scarcity making transporters to raise fares arbitrarily.
As Christmas approaches, transport fares will rise by over 100% and this can discourage people from travelling from cities and urban centres to the villages. This season also affords opportunity for tailors, fashion designers, hair dressing salons, dealers in men and women clothes, children attires to make brisk business.
Markets are springing up in several places as the Christmas rush intensifies with shoppers everywhere searching for cheap, affordable goods to buy. Many traders use the festive season to bring in contraband goods which can be easily disposed.
While parties and merry making dominate at Christmas with plenty to eat and drink in most homes, little consideration is given to those people in orphanages, prison yards, destitutes, mental homes, beggars and the down-trodden, including the jobless.
The challenge here is for the affluent and wealthy individuals to extend the joy of Christmas to such people as Jesus Christ had wished. Some charities and churches are doing a lot in this direction, but much can still be done.