Nigerians love to celebrate. They take every opportunity to break out drinks and Jollof and dance till their feet hurt, but Christmas celebrations take the cake. It is one of the biggest celebrations in Nigeria; it is not only celebrated by the Christian community in the country, but by most of the (if not the entire) population of the nation. It is a single unifying event that transcends cultures and geographical barriers. It is the one tradition that everyone ‘gets,’ regardless of background, status, beliefs, or social standing.
More than just a time to celebrate, Christmas in Nigeria is also a time of re-union. Cities and urban areas empty out as people travel en masse to their villages and hometowns in other parts of the country or even outside the country to celebrate the holidays with family. It is a time when uncles and aunts meet nieces and nephews, when siblings hold each other in long hugs, and sounds of hearty laughter can be heard over a well-laid table of Mama’s cooking.
Christmas means different things to different people around the world, but there are some traditions that are uniquely Nigerian, and have defined this season for Africa’s most populous city. Here are six of those traditions that are sure to tickle you:
1. Christmas Rice
If you have a West-African friend, you may have heard about the “Jollof Wars,” friendly banter about the origin of ‘Jollof rice’ amongst West African countries. Nigerians, of course, claim to be the original creators of this dish, not just that, but also that theirs is the most visually appealing and delicious. And you can bet that it would be available in almost every home on a day like Christmas.
Jollof is a dish of rice cooked in peppers, with vegetables as garnish. Sounds simple, but it’s not; there is an art to making Jollof, people. At Christmas, it is usually served with fried beef or fried chicken, with a bottle of Coca-Cola (Coke) to “wash it down.”
Rice is the number one staple food in Nigeria, and on Christmas day, it is the number one dish served. Nearly every Nigerian eats rice at least once a day, and for a country with over 200 million inhabitants, this translates to hundreds of thousands of tons of rice being eaten every day. Rice is such an important food in a Nigerian household, particularly during the Christmas season, and it is so important that some companies gift bags of rice to their workers to celebrate the holiday.
And what good is Christmas rice eaten alone? After the rice is cooked, many families, especially in rural areas, share the goodness; they pack the food in little containers and distribute to neighbors.
2. Christmas Finery
Or as it is colloquially called, “Christmas Cloth.” Regardless of tribe, religion or social status, Nigerians are known for spending a great deal of time and money on shopping during the Christmas holidays, particularly for the outfits they wear on Christmas day.
Nigerians select and purchase the most gorgeous apparels to wear on the 25th of December in honor of Christmas. One only needs to step out the door on Christmas morning to see the glorious display of attires – the colorful, artfully tied geles on the women, the sparkling shoes on the men, girls in traditional wear or pretty dresses with little handbags, and boys in that special shirt they have eyed at the store for most of the year.
The Christmas Cloth is almost sacred; it must be new, taken out of the packaging only just before it is worn, and must be the very best that money can buy. Some families even create custom designs or wear uniform clothing /fabrics to celebrate in this period. In some areas, families dress well enough to out-do other families – it’s all fun and games though; it adds to the fun and excitement of the season.
And who can forget Christmas hair? New cuts, the latest styles; no outfit is complete without a complementing hairstyle.
3. Father Christmas
Father Christmas is to Nigerians what Santa Claus is to non-Nigerians. Children typically go to malls and other such places to visit Father Christmas, answer a few questions, and get a gift. While, Father Christmas and Santa Claus are technically the same, a typical Nigerian may disagree that Santa exists.
4. Christmas Tree and Decorations
While some Nigerians go all out in decorating their homes during the Christmas season, what is more exciting is that businesses, banks, and corporate bodies have adopted the same tradition and many of them attempt to compete with each other by putting up very elaborate decorations within and outside their office premises. Even the governments also commissions decorations around major city streets and parks.
In a typical Nigerian city at Christmas, most buildings wink in different colors. One of the most elaborate ones is done by a bank in Lagos. It is usually set up at least a month to Christmas, and it is always a spectacle; different shapes and words are formed with light and it is just such a beauty to look at.
Christmas in the villages are even more fun as the masquerades come out to greet the people of the village.
Numerous masquerade groups display various cultural dance moves in exchange for money. In some areas, young girls would also form dance groups and perform with palm fronds tied to their feet as a sign of bravery. They would also earn some money for their performance.
6. All-day Knock-out
The ear-splitting fireworks, fondly known as ‘banger’ or ‘knock outs, are the ‘official’ signal that Christmas is near. The fireworks usually start a few weeks before Christmas and slowly build up as the D-day nears. Some families make a ceremony out of it, and sometimes children play pranks on passersby with the fireworks.
Fireworks displays get bigger as the year draws closer to its end. When it begins, you can usually hear stray, isolated sounds, but as December progresses, they become louder and go on for longer. On Christmas night, some corporations and event organizers bring out the big guns; depending on the area where you are, there will be at least one display of fireworks going on. The sky lighting up in addition to the streets already awash with beautiful lights is more than just a photo op – it’s what memories are made of!
Christmas is definitely a very interesting time to be in Nigeria; it is better experienced than reported. So, be sure to consider Christmas time for your next visit!