Christmas in the past used to be a period for merriment, sharing and neighbourliness for Christians and non-Christians alike in Nigeria, as celebrants would share foods and other valuable materials, which was the norm then. However, with insurgency now at an unprecedented level in the country, people have decided to abandon the old practice.
Christmas is the time of the year when Christians unite with family members and friends to celebrate the birth of the Messiah. The Yuletide comes with sounds of joy, thrills and messages of love and hope for peace for Christians to appreciate the season. It is a day set aside to mark the birth of Jesus Christ.
For most Christians, Christmas is when they visit and exchange gifts with loved ones. In Nigeria, sharing of food and exchange of gifts often characterise Christmas celebrations.
However for sometime now, that seemed to have changed as most people now keep to themselves due to lack of mutual trust that the incessant insecurity threats and attacks across the country have caused. Millions of Nigerians have been displaced from their homes and villages due to constant killings by Boko Haram sect members in the north, and are forced to live as refugees and beggars in various refugee camps across the country.
Dapam Bitrus, a tailor who spoke with LEADERSHIP Sunday on the changing face of Christmas, said, “When we were growing up, we used to take food to our neighbours at Christmas. They will collect the food and give us money in appreciation.
“Where I grew up in Jos, there were many Muslims and Christians, and anytime it was festive period, whether it was ours or theirs, we celebrated it together. We would go to Shere Hills for picnics and party there till night fell.
“I remember we used to dance from one place to another, beginning on Christmas Eve to Christmas Day. We would throw knockouts and other firecrackers at one another, singing songs with common rhymes to announce to everybody that the next day was Christmas.
“But I can’t do that now and I won’t let my children do that too, because they might get killed either by bombs or be attacked on their way. We no longer share foods like our parents did.
“I will not even collect food from any neighbour today, because of fear of poisoning. It is unfortunate that Christmas is no longer the way we knew it while growing up. We have good memories unlike the children of nowadays who are stuck on computers and other artificial gadgets instead of enjoying nature the way it is like we did then,” he said.
Mrs Dorcas Ibrahim, a mother of five and a teacher, said, “I love Christmas and I love to give out things during Christmas period; but I don’t give out food again. I only give out things that are ready-made, because if you give people food, they will only throw the food away. The hardship has also made things difficult for us, and so, we will not want to do anything that will increase our expenses.
“What I do these days is that, I cook for my family and give out only drinks to people around. I don’t allow my children to visit neighbours, or go to public places because of insecurity. Christmas is now celebrate in a low-keyed manner. I don’t even advise people to have elaborate celebrations, because we don’t know what will happen during the elections and after. People should endeavour to save some money.
“Now, people no longer exchange gift items like food and cards. We used to give inspiring cards of hope and love to one another, but I can’t even remember if they still sell Christmas cards today. Young people these days don’t bother about them. They prefer spending money on gadgets and wearing designer materials,” she said with regret registered on her face.
On his part, Pastor Bernard Adebode, stated that, “Gone are the days when the churches used to organise Christmas carols and other programmes at Christmas Eve because of insecurity. What we do now is to organise small Christmas carols few days before Christmas. As much as it is a time for us to rejoice and celebrate the birth of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, I don’t think we should lose our heads in the celebration.
“Let’s make it a time for sober reflection, because of the time we are in now. The days are evil and the economy is biting harder on Nigerians. The average Nigerian on the street finds it hard to feed and we also have the Boko Haram sect to contend with.
“So, as much as people will want to celebrate this Yuletide, we must also be cautious of what is happening around us. We can show the love of Christ by caring and supporting the needy and the less-privileged. We should also unite with families, friends and communities, and use it as a time to thank God for His faithfulness,” he concluded.
However, Uche Ogbonna, a trader and father of three, said, “Christmas in Nigeria is no longer as pleasant as it was many years ago. There is this suspicion among people in Nigeria now. Some don’t even have the money to celebrate the Christmas the way they wished to, and the coming election has also created anxiety among Nigerians. People don’t want to be caught off guard, so they’re making frantic savings of their money,” he said, adding that, “If you notice, people no longer buy hampers like they used to in the past.
“But we can change all that by showing each other love. We can visit each other or give out gifts without all this fear. We can also develop mutual trust through visitations on such occasions like this Christmas period.
“I remember while we were growing up, our parents would dress us up in beautiful attires and ask us to visit our neighbours and friends, whether Christian or Muslim. And when they gave us money, we would bring the money home and show our parents. They would in turn buy local safe boxes for us, which were usually made from zinc or wood and would ask us to put the money in the box, and the monies would later be used to buy us other things for the saeson.
“It used to be fun, and so we were always looking forward to Christmas seasons. But for sometime now, people just send text messages through all forms of gadgets on Christmas days, instead of the old fashion Christmas greeting cards and foods. Even children don’t make visitations like we used to do in those days.
“Parents must go back to teaching their children how to love and rejoice with their neighbours. We must revive that old tradition of loving, caring, sharing and giving that used to be the norms those days on Christmas seasons, because those are the essence of the Christmas. Jesus was all about love and we must spread that love home and abroad by loving those close to us.”
Another person who shared the memories of the old Christmas order was Balaraba Ado, a mother of six. “Christmas and Sallah celebrations have all changed, and I know it is because the society itself has changed. Life is also becoming difficult for people. It is not just about insecurity, but the economy has also made many people to start celebrating on a low level.
“When my husband was alive, I used to shop in Lagos for my children’s Sallah wares. But since he died, buying there is always a big problem. My Christian friends and teachers too have been complaining. It is so bad that we don’t even exchange greeting cards like before.
“I wish we can go back to the old days, when we were growing up. We never cooked during festive periods, like Christmas, because our house would be flooded with foods and drinks, and those were what we would eat till nightfall.
“These days, I hardly receive food from neighbours. We used to exchange visits to show off our new clothes and receive money as gifts from neighbours then. But what do we have now? All that the children care about these days are internet, games and spending money. I really blame parents for this, because it was our parents who taught us how to relate with our neighbours, and I have tried to inculcate that love and brotherliness in my children. The two that are married do what I do every festive period; they share food and visit their friends and close associates on festive periods,” she said.