A Different Kind of Christmas By Ololade Ajekigbe

Bright lights! Gift boxes! Hampers filled with plenty of goodies! New clothes and shoes! The well-decorated Christmas trees, and not forgetting the parties! The paraphernalia and pomp and pageantry that were unmissable indicators of the Christmas season once upon a time. Christmas is here once again, and I don’t know if I’m the only one who has observed it, but it really doesn’t feel like it. In the last couple of years, the usual celebrations that accompanied the Yuletide season have seemed forced; a trite attempt at making things happen instead of the fluidity and ease of merrymaking which naturally come with festive periods.

This year, things appear to be even worse. For one, our dear Harmattan which would usually show up as a precursor to Christmas has deserted us, and one is left to wonder what really is going on. Could it be that even the weather has picked up on the vibe that all’s not well in the land? Apart from a couple of corporate organisations who have still managed to pull off their annual Christmas/End-of-the-year parties and the annual Christmas Carol services in churches, there’s been very little to excite in the buildup to the day. Did I hear you say “No thanks to the recession?”

It’s amazing how things have changed. A couple of years ago, during this period, the streets would have become less chaotic in Lagos as the Easterners would have been sure to have made their annual end of the year trip to their villages. New cars would be driven down. The “successful” trader or businessman makes his triumphant return to his people bearing plenty of gifts and showering his ilk with money. Today, more and more Igbo are shunning that all important trip. They’d rather stay put in Lagos than endure the ignominy of being seen as unsuccessful to their kinsmen after almost 365 days in the London of Nigeria.

Even for those who aren’t exactly doing badly, the awareness that they have to be careful not to get carried away by the thrill of the season and overspend in the process is all too real. They are caught between living a little because they have worked so hard in the course of the year and really do need to let down their hair and splurge a little, and a conscious need to be prudent as the New Year approaches. Especially with the stark reminder that January remains a long month riddled with plenty of bills to pay. And so even they hold back, let alone the several others who cannot afford even the “luxury” of a new shirt at this time.

It’s a different kind of Christmas. Many are working instead of relaxing as the case should be. I should know because I am one of them. You want to play and have fun. Buy that one (or two) luxury item you have been eyeing in the mall for a long time. You want to say goodbye to this unbelievably stressful country for a couple of weeks, go far away from an insensitive and incompetent government, away from the ever under-performing electricity companies, and get some well-deserved rest. You want to take your kids to Disney World or even the Obudu Cattle Ranch, but the figures in your bank account are a far cry from what you’d require to have the semblance of a meaningful vacation, so you just decide to respect yourself and sit your derriere where your miserable budget allows.

It’s a Christmas that will see many spend their holiday at the IDP camps. Low on basic necessities like groceries and toiletries. A Christmas that will make the “Yankee and Jand Returnees” appear as multimillionaires because their few dollars and pounds would exchange for a huge sum when they get here, making the rest of us wonder what we’re still doing in a country that never ceases to prove to us that it doesn’t give a hoot if we starve to death.

It’s also a Christmas that will have many wondering if they’d experience the many unpleasant episodes they have endured this year in the coming year.

But, it’s also a Christmas that reminds us that we are far stronger than we think. What with all the hardship that we have had to contend with in 2016. Which also means that it’s a time we should be deeply grateful for. Grateful that in spite of all we have gone through, we are still surviving; and not just surviving, but doing so we all the panache and zest that some of us can muster. Keeping our heads up and facing each day with a renewed determination not to give up.

You can’t help but love Christmas. Rich or poor, single or married…even non-Christians feel a sense of belonging with the season because it marks the countdown to the end of the year. A lot of us may not be exactly where we had hoped we’d be at the beginning of the year, but that’s precisely what new beginnings are about – a chance to start afresh, give our goals a fresh push with unflinching optimism that things will get better.

This Christmas may be a different one due to the present realities of the times, but we will make the best out of it like we are condemned to do. After all, we are Nigerians, making the most out of a bad situation is right up our alley.

Ms Ajekigbe wrote in from Lagos via l_ajeks@yahoo.com