By Charles Adingupu, Emmanuel Edukugho & Ebun Ebun Sessou
For reasonable minutes, Pa Gabriel Igboanugo reclines on his easy chair, lost in wondering contemplation over which direction the world is gradually drifting.
Suddenly, like a man who has returned from spiritual voyage, the old man enthused, ‘’my son, Christmas has lost it’s meaning. Today, Nigerians are more concerned on how to survive than basking in the euphoria that heralds the season. The nation’s economy has denied her people the true meaning to Christmas’’.
Again, the old man resumes his silent posture, perhaps, trying to recollect with nostalgia his hey days at Christmas as a teenager, traversing the different footpaths leading to various family homes at his Onicha-Ugbo village in today’s Dalta state. This time, he waves his locally hand-made fan to chase away the early morning fly that was angling to have a share from his palm-wine gourd. The old man who relishes his glorious days at Christmas, said the harmattan haze reminds them that Christmas has really begun. ‘’Every child in my days always looks forward, with joy, to the Christmas. For us then, the expectation was high and the anxiety accompanying it was something to behold. I remember vividly that we ate rice few times in a year and Christmas was one of those times. Christmas rice was different and we looked forward to it. And we must all wear new clothes. At that time, our festive costumes were merely jumper, a long flowing shirt stretching to the kneel region. It was made of simple ankara fabrics.
‘’I remember one Christmas season when my father as a punishment ordered our mothers not to cook rice for us because we had a fight in the house. It was a polygamous home. That year will never fade away easily in my memory. But no love was lost as family members in our kindred who became aware of my father’s stance following our recalcitrant behaviour flooded our home with different sizes of plates of rice.
‘’From the first day of December, children of different age grades, go for dance and music rehearsals every evening. On Christmas day, there would be masquerades, local dance and music competitions among the different quarters that make up the Onicha-Ugbo community. Ironically, the competition always climaxed in a fight. The Christmas excitement always turned to some kind of frenzy. The feeling was indescribable. Those were parts of the fun we enjoy then’’, Pa Igboanugo said.
But for Pa Folusho Adebayo, a retired secondary school principal who was brought up in Yaba, Lagos, about 50years ago, Christmas was more colourful, exotic and a mass participatory festival involving children, youths, adults, old men and women gaily dressed for the celebration. Funny as it were, Christmas in Nigeria was celebrated by virtually everybody in respective of their religious inclinations.
His words: ‘’While growing up as a child in the 70s, we were looking up to the Christmas Day with great expectations. On Christmas day, we must wear new clothes, visit family friends, dance round the neighbourhood with masquerades, the festive special delicacy, rice and chicken accompanied with assorted beverages were always in abundance for all to feast on. Besides, we also went on visitation in groups to different family homes and friends, eating rice and chicken as well as collecting sweets, biscuits and cash gifts. All these would be shared evenly at the end of the visitation exercise.”.
The retired head teacher recalled with nostalgia that Christmas was just one celebration they never wished would come to an end because it was celebration galore, a season to show off new clothes bought by their parents and elder relations. At that time, he said, children were taken to different amusement parks and other recreational centres by either their parents or uncles in the spirit of Christmas. For them, Christmas provided a meeting point for both Christians and Muslims alike because Jesus Christ is reverend by all despite the divergent religious inclinations.
‘’Exchange of gift items particularly specially prepared traditional delicacies were common then. Also, inspiring messages of hope were sent across to loved ones via Christmas cards in the spirit of the season. Besides, feuding families were reconciled and relationships harmonised. Equally significant was the Christmas Eve-the night before the day the Messiah was born’’, Adebayo said.
Tony Nwaokeoma grew up in Enugu and would never forget the festival period in the 1970s running into the 1980s before the decline in Christmass celebration commenced.
“The churches had Christmas carols but what excited us most were the different masquerade groups that start performing about seven days to Christmas day,” Tony says with unbelievable excitement. “The groups especially the Okwomma group played the Gongs and moved around at night, causing traffic and attracting followership. Sometimes different groups clashed and scenes were created. The masquerades came out on Christmas days to added colour to these groups. Aside the traditional dance groups there were always parties everywhere for those who liked such social life. The clubs were busy. It was fun, fun and fun. It is a pity Christmas is no longer the way we knew it while growing up. I don’t know what happened to us. I feel for the youth of today. They did not experience the good days of Nigeria.”
For Francis Ayo, an IT Lagos based expert, his Christmas childhood reminiscence in Auchi, Edo state would forever remain indelible in his memory. For them, Christmas in his native home, began with the emergence of the harmattan haze. But preparations for the season began in earnest with the closure of schools for the term. It was a period to reward outstanding children in their academics with gifts particularly new clothes, shoes, fanciful rubber wrist watches and sun glasses. In the same way, indolent and recalcitrant one among us were denied some gifts in order to encourage them to do better in the coming year. It was more of stock-taking and reckoning for the children as well.
‘’It was a season we looked up to with great joy. I remember our parents and elder uncles took us to Benin-city, the state capital for shopping. At that time, the then Leventis and Kingsway stores were beehive of activities as children with their parents and elder brothers besieged those place in search of the good things of life. The Christmas day proper was the day to flaunt these flambuoyant attires with some sense of pride and dignity.
‘’But the most interesting aspect of it all, was that all the children ate from one big bowl of rice placed in front of them. Nobody ate separately. The method of feeding engendered love and indivisible oneness. In the same way, we went visiting to family homes and friends in groups. Though, the elderly ones in our midst, preferred to watch masquerades and the different cultural dances in the village. However, at the end of the visitation, either our mother or elder brothers would share what was realised among us in order of seniority,”’ Ayo said.
The child Yuletide experience of a Benin-city based social crusader, Mr. Anthony Okotie was not in anyway different. He said that Christmas in Warri, his birth place, was great fun.
There were series of events to engage our little minds at that time. Preparation for the Christmas began immediately the school closed for the term. However, the preparations climaxed on Christmas Eve.
He said,’’I remember we danced from one major street to another beginning on Christ Eve to Christmas day in Warri, throwing knock-out otherwise known as banga at one another chorusing war-like songs and chanting common rhymes with repetition obviously to remind on-lookers that ‘’tomorrow is Christmas, tomorrow is Christmas’’. We kept vigil while the elders would spend their time in beer parlour dancing and chatting over some bottles of beer and hot drinks. However, those who could not go to clubs still had fun at the open space in the compound with music provided by anyone from a JVC musical set with the loudspeakers mounted at the middle of the compound. The people exchanged drinks with one another with love’’.
According to him, this celebration would dovetail into the Christmas day when the real Christians would attend church service and thereafter continue the celebration but this time with a lot of feasting on the traditional cuisine delicacies of owo, pepper soup, cooked yam and starch accompanied with good quantity of both local and foreign gin, bottles of beer and soft drinks for the children
In the same way, Kalu Onwuka who hails from Ohufia in Abia state, recalls that Christmas is usually a season to reunite the family members particularly city dwellers. For them, it was more of an unwritten law that every son and daughter of Ohufia must celebrate the Christmas in the village.
‘’There is usually an aura that tells the story of Christmas better. About a week to the Christmas, cars of different shapes and sizes are driven into the village at every passing minute dropping off our brothers coming home to celebrate the Christmas with us. What announces the arrival of a city dweller was a shout of excitement that rents the air. Though, the season also marks a new calendar year for the indigenes as we hold the annual general meeting at this period. There’s usually enough to eat and drink’’, Onwuka enthused.
The Missing Links
Today all the razzmatazz which seems to herald the Christmas has gone with the wind. The dwindling fortune of the nation’s economy, the sweeping rave of modernity which has largely replaced local traditional dance with foreign music and gradual disappearance of our rich cultural values all combined to making Christmas celebration what it is now – just the celebration of the birth of Christ without the traditional fanfare.
Adebayo stated this much in an interview with the Saturday Vanguard. ‘’Most of these attractions often related to the Christmas have fizzled out over the years due to the unfavourable economic climate. People still mark the Christmas ostensibly for religious purposes”.
Jude Ogwu averred that modernity has changed the face of Christmas. ‘’Where are the youths who will dance to the traditional rhythm or beat the talking drums to the admiration of on-lookers or better still that would appreciate the language of the flute? The urban rural migration has impacted adversely on the our once cherished cultural norms that are gradually drifting to oblivion”.
But for a petty trader, Mrs. Agnes who sells toiletries at the popular Ajah market the economic down turn has impacted greatly on her daily sales. According to her, she manages to record meagre sales of N5000 a week as against her usual daily sales of N4,500 about two years ago.
Bleak Christmas celebration
Already, indications are rife that most Nigerians will mark the Christmas in low key while others may likely have nothing to cheer about. For Engineer Ogbueshi Chris Oleah, the nation’s economic woes cannot compel Nigerians to do otherwise but despondency cannot reign supreme in their daily affairs.
His words: ‘’I believe Nigerians are happy that they are alive to tell the story of this year Christmas than bothering over new clothes and shoes to wear. God is in control and He will take care of His people accordingly.’’
A Lagos based banker, Mr. Deniel Anyanwu told Saturday Vanguard that he had, since two years ago, jettisoned the annual ritual of travelling with his family members to his village in the East.
It’s a common knowledge that there was pay cut in banks following the changes introduced by the immediate past central bank Governor, Mallam Sanusi Lamido. “Those of us who are still lucky to be in the sector trend with caution. Things are no longer at ease with bankers any more. So, where will the money come from to ferry my family to the village? Besides, after the Christmas there will be school fees to be paid’’.
Mrs. Christy Osukoya said the celebration of Christmas seems to have gone with the wind as the no money syndrome has hit virtually every family in Nigeria.
‘’Fortunately, as it seems, children seem to appreciate the predicament of their parents as they seem not to bother them about new clothes and shoes to wear for the Christmas. The joy of Christmas for me is to celebrate the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ and to recognise that He died for our sins. Today, that is the consolation for most Nigerians who, hitherto, would have preferred to mark the Christmas with pomp and pageantry’’, she said.
Also for Mrs. Kingsley, a casual factory worker in Lagos her beggarly twenty thousand naira monthly salary would barely be sufficient to entertain her four children for the Christmas. However, she takes consolation in understanding demonstrated by the her children.
Carmelus Orji, a transporter in one of the popular parks in Lagos lamented the low turn- out of travellers for the Yuletide. ‘’Though there is still hope that the rush by travellers may be high next week it’s obvious that it cannot be like the past”.
Up! Up go prices of items
From the popular Mile 12 market to the ever busy Balogun market the human traffic is a sharp contrast to what it used to be. Investigations revealed that the vehicular traffic of trailers carrying food items has reduced, no thanks to the upsurge of the Boko Harem insurgency in the north. The trailers that brought fish from Borno to Mile 12 and Iddo markets have reduced.
Tanko Saai’du, a truck driver, said that farmers in the north have abandoned their farms to seek refuge elsewhere outside their ancestral homes following the consistent attacks of the Boko Harem insurgents.
Bend down boutique
to the rescue
Some parents who insist in buying new clothes for the children and wards opt for fairly used clothes and shoes. The popular Yaba railway fairly used clothes section of the market is currently under siege as prospective buyers throng the market in search of things to buy. Mrs. Kingsley, a casual worker who initially promised to buy new clothes for her children this Christmas was left without an option of patronising the popular Yaba market for cheap clothes for her children.
Where are the hampers please!
The usual Christmas gift, hampers which adorn most stalls in major markets in Lagos are now scanty. Feelers from most cities in Nigeria, showed that traders on hampers recorded poor sales, hence most of them are reluctant to engage in the business. One of the traders who gave his name merely as Juliet, said nobody seems to be interested in the business of making hampers any more.
Mr. Edward Ted, a corporate affairs manager of a firm based in Lagos, disclosed to Saturday Vanguard that most firms no longer distribute hampers to their clients as a token of appreciation for their patronage. Rather they offer simple items like pens and pins.
A senior journalist who would not want his names in print, noted, with dismay, that the usual flow of hampers to the newsrooms has been poor this year, a reflection of bad times.
From entertainment to the exchange of gifts and the celebration proper, the festive times of Christmas are no longer as pleasant as they were many years ago. Will the good times return? Time will tell.