Christmas marks the biblical event of the birth of Jesus Christ, the Saviour of the world, the foundation upon which the world’s largest religion (Christianity) is based. The story of that birth itself is a lesson in humility. Interestingly, the celebration of that event leaves much to be desired. It is often said that most people go about celebrating Christmas without appreciating the reason for the season.
The purported celebration of Christmas in Nigeria deserves a closer attention. The preparations include the graft, the desperation, the fighting, the cheating and outright stealing. This year, the Christmas arrived yesterday and it has already passed by today. Yes it has. What we have today and in the next few days will just be the denouement after the event. Then, there will be a further build-up to the celebration of New Year’s Day on January 1. And few days after, we will come to the realisation that both days were just ordinary days like all other days. What set them apart are human attachments to the dates.
On Christmas Eve, a news report said passengers had to pay as much as between N9000 and N12,000 to travel from Abuja to some cities in the South-East of the country. That is an outrageous sum of money to spend for a one-way road travel. But then, it is part of the Christmas and end of year ritual for many citizens. So nothing is too much to commit. Like one traveller told a television reporter, he would spend any amount for a chance to be home for Christmas and see his mother.
Back in the days, I used to encounter in Lagos and many western states, money collection boxes in public offices. The idea is for visitors to such offices to drop some money, which the staff later share. You may call it advanced begging or extortion but to the beneficiaries, it is their Christmas dividend.
What of this bizarre news about a steward in Lagos who murdered his employer in circumstances that suggest he was drawn into it by the quest to have money to “celebrate” this season. If only all those who went on a frenzy, preparing for Christmas realised what the day was all about, or ought to be about, then, and only then would we say that the Christmas had been well spent or celebrated.
Although Christmas messages by various public officials try to draw people’s attention to the lessons of humility of Christ’s birth, his purpose in coming to the world and the hope he offers, this hardly reflects in the actual celebration. Otherwise, people need not resort to unrestricted merry making and spending only to become sober in January when sundry bills, including school fees stare them in the face.
Perhaps, part of the problems of the “wrong” Christmas celebration is linked to its history. It is a well-known fact that Jesus Christ was not born on December 25. In fact, his time on earth preceded the current dating system. The date was picked by Christian leaders neither for scientific nor theological reason. It was arbitrarily picked to coincide with the celebration of the heathen Festival of Nativity or the feast of the sun god. It was hoped that by choosing the date of a heathen celebration to celebrate the birth of Christ, they would be able to sanitise and “Christianise” that date. Many years after, the attainment of this hope is doubtful.
One of the reasons the celebration of Christmas has taken its own life outside Christianity and way beyond the spiritual contents is because the season has been hijacked by mercantile interests. Coming at the end of the year, it remains about the most economically viable of the major celebrations around the year. The mercantile interests really hold the population hostage all year round.
In February, these businesses market Valentine’s Day; in March, they sell us Mother’s Day and the marking of the International Women’s Day. Soon after, between March and April comes Easter. Although Father’s Day is hardly as popular as Mother’s Day, the businesses still focus on it in June, just before the summer holidays (another marketing opportunity). Straight out of summer holidays, the world mercantile system packages the Halloween and then Thanksgiving.
Halloween is a creation of the Western world, just as Thanksgiving in November is an American tradition. But many more Nigerians are being drawn into celebrating these foreign events for many reasons, central of which is the packaging that come from commercial industries. But also a key factor is the tendency of Nigerians to mimic or recreate foreign ideas in a false sense of showing off as ‘enlightened’, ‘well-travelled’ or ‘sophisticated’ citizens.
mercantilist interests end the year by marketing Christmas and New Year Day celebrations as a must-do, no-expenses-barred event where the public must try to outspend and end the year in grand style. I understand that in the UK, it is estimated that 30 per cent of all sales in shops happen in the Christmas season. A good indicator that Christmas has been hijacked by non-Christians is the fact that one of the most spectacular celebrations and highest sales occur in the
United Arab Emirates, a trade destination in the Arabia, where Christianity is not practised. A few years ago, the luxurious Emirates Palace Hotel, Abu Dhabi hotel, unveiled the world’s most expensive Christmas tree, valued at more than $11m. The 13-metre fake evergreen tree was located in the hotel’s lobby, and decorated with silver and gold bows, ball-shaped ornaments and small white lights.
A Japanese classmate once asked me if we in Nigeria celebrate Christmas. That was laughable, coming from a non-Christian from a country with very limited number of Christians or Christian traditions. Little wonder that the global community has changed the narratives about Christmas. Rather than focus on Jesus Christ, the focus is on Santa Claus. Instead of the manger, we talk of the grotto, Jack Frost, the concepts of “white Christmas”, “one horse open sleigh” and “snow bells” etc. What do all those mean to a Nigerian child as necessary incidents of Christmas?
In Nigeria, the celebration translates to so many untoward things, most especially crimes. We even give the period an interesting expression called the “ember months” where the law enforcement agencies have to work extra hard to contain crimes. Even the churches add to the frenzy by the kinds of activities they plan for end of year. The ideas about the 11th hour or last minute ‘miracles’, expectations of sudden turnarounds and transformations, just because it is year-end also add to pushing the people into further frenzy to “make it” before the year ends. It equally exposes them to being scammed by both the spiritualists and secular scammers.
For many children, their impression of Christmas is a time for eating and drinking, getting new clothes and toys etc. For the youths, you would have to add revelry to the package, for it to be Christmas. One of the events I came across this season was Christmas swimming pool splash in a big hotel in Abuja. The advertisements showed young men and women in semi-nude wears partying in and outside the swimming pool. Such could and must have turned into a wild party with sex and drugs involved either at the event or immediately afterwards at different locations. And they still attribute that to Christmas.
Christmas among the youths therefore erroneously translates to the season for partying, drinks, drugs and violence, perhaps more than at any other time. Many adults are also guilty of most of what has been painted above. Many of them take undue advantage of other vulnerable ones during this period. It is also that time that they make more money by whatever means. That may mean stealing and cheating in their offices. It is also the time even the Christians let off their guards by being involved in and condoning certain acts they would ordinarily have classified as occultism but which they now justify as ‘my people’s tradition’?
However people chose to celebrate Christmas and New Year’s Day is totally up to them. But they need to be conscious of why they are celebrating and that there is life after the season. Failure to take cognisance of that could lead to the morning after the celebrations turning to the mourning after.
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