Last updated on February 16th, 2020 at 10:36 am
Christmas in Nigeria is many things, but its shrill message of togetherness and family bond remain the same every season.
There is no such thing as doing too much when celebrating Christmas in Africa. In fact, being extra “extra” is how not to have a bad Christmas in Africa. There are different features of Christmas, and what it really means to so many people, aside from the broader Christmas narrative about Christ’s birth in Bethlehem.
Christmas in Africa
Christmas in Africa is hardly synonymous; traditions performed in every country in Africa differ with little or no similarities. When it comes to African Christmas, Africans go big by celebrating beautiful cultural festivities. That’s the highlight of the celebrations — a display of amazing cultural things.
My aunt has been in the United States of America for more than 23 years, yet she loves to come back to Nigeria for Christmas, with my cousin who is almost the same age as me. I don’t understand why they are even thrilled to spend Christmas here, away from snowing and tinsel-lit streets. Maybe it is a particular yearning for something familiar and immensely African, then family and togetherness too.
The way most foreigners think “Africa is a country” is the same way there is hemisphere and myopic idea about Christmas in Africa. Of course, there is very little chance of enjoying a white Christmas but it is far from uninteresting or full of starving kids. The biggest difference in Nigeria is the harmattan; the dry season, a time when our lips crack and are covered in Vaseline, or the edges of the wooden table peel off.
As in most Christian cultures, caroling is common in Africa during the Christmas celebrations. In Malawi, after a Christmas morning church service, groups of young children gather to dance and sing with home-made instruments. They also go from door-to-door, playing music. Instead of candies like during trick-or-treating, they get monetary gifts. While in Gambia, people parade with lanterns known as fanals made in the shape of a boat or a house, singing and dancing.
For Christmas meals, Tanzanians eat maize meal popularly known as ugali and “pilau”, a spiced rice dish which can be served either with meat or shellfish.
In Kenya, people decorate cypress trees as Christmas trees. There, Christmas is almost made to look like what we have in the west, with midnight masses on 24 December, where psalms are sung and afterward Kenyans wish each other “heri ya Krismasi”, which means “Merry Christmas” in Swahili.
Apart from these little bits of Christmas traditions, African Christmas is usually festive, loud and colorful. It is a very intense period, when the party mood is activated.
What the Nigerian Christmas Culture is like
Growing up as a child, we have been accustomed to the same old and tiring Christmas tradition. But these Nigerian Christmas traditions never fail to add sparkle to the celebration. A favorite memory I have about my earliest Christmas is wearing matching clothes with my sister and dolling up our hairs. The funniest had to be fighting over the crisp naira notes given to us by our uncles. Every member of the family either from my mother’s or father’s side always came home for Christmas, so there were a lot of monetary gifts. We often hid each other’s money. Or when one of us lost a crisp note, we would want to claim the other’s. This led to some of our squabbles, sometimes physically throwing soft punches and rolling under the table, before our father would come to grab us by the arm.
Everything is so different now. We no longer fight over crisp naira notes. But most of the Christmas tradition remains the same. More than a time to celebrate, Christmas is more like a reunion — meeting cousins who you don’t even know their favorite colors, uncles who buy drinks for neighbors who they don’t even know and aunties bringing along pretty dresses.
Although, Christmas means different things for different people, there are some traditions which are uniquely Nigerian. The Nigerian Christmas culture has come to define the season every December. Here are a few of those traditions:
1. Christmas Clothes
Especially for children, “Christmas Cloth” is a major part of the Nigerian Christmas tradition. In fact, for some, without it, there is probably no Christmas. My siblings and I had special clothes that we wore on 25 December, either for the church service or to parade around with. Even though we don’t bother much about it these days, Nigerians are known to shop during the holidays for outfits to wear regardless of their financial status. This is a Nigerian Christmas culture that is still very popular till date, mostly among children. The display of colorful attire is always the highlight of the day, everyone trying to outshine the other.
2. Christmas Rice
Rice is the most common staple food cooked for every occasion in Nigeria. Any festive gathering without “rice” is considered dry by Nigerians. Rice can be made in different ways, whether as fried rice, palm oil rice, coconut rice, or most importantly the Jollof rice — Nigeria’s most favorite dish.
Jollof rice is a popular Christmas dish, preferred by all. Aside from being visually appealing, it is a delicious meal. Families who don’t eat rice during Christmas are considered not in tune with the groove of the season. The Christmas rice can also be served with tomato stew too and shared with neighbors. Eating as much as you want until your stomach can no longer take more is how the birth of Christ is marked in Nigeria. It is a culture that won’t end.
3. Bangers or Knock-outs
These ear-splitting fireworks are known as “knock-outs” by average Nigerians. The craze around these bangers starts a day or two days before the actual Christmas day, sometimes during Christmas eve, depending on the neighborhood where you live. They are used to gracefully mark Christmas Day, and used by children to play pranks on passers-by. My first encounter with a knock-out was as a young teen — my kid brother had lit the banger and dropped it beside me. It was a scary experience as the banger threw out three sharp booms and I ran into a nearby gutter.
4. Father Christmas
In Nigeria, the story of a fat guy who rides a sleigh to bring Christmas gifts only existed in the movies. Nobody is crawling through chimes to bring you presents in Nigeria. Some don’t even get gifts during Christmas; it is more like a myth. Father Christmas is a more appropriate term to give to the man with a fake big belly at malls asking questions and giving out presents.
How to Spend Christmas in Lagos
Christmas holidays in Lagos is a popular highlight of Nigeria’s holiday season. Every year, most Nigerians go back to their villages or take advantage of Lagos to London December travel packages.
Apart from the normal Nigerian Christmas culture of rice, matching outfits, Father Christmas and bangers, which is a rather monotonous experience, there are other ways to have the perfect Christmas in the metropolitan city.
December in Lagos is always filled with activities. It is a holiday season for a long supply for entertainment for visitors and residents whether introverts or extroverts.
Restaurants, bars and beauty salons are constantly busy. Then there is a rush to the Lagos Island and Christmas shopping around Balogun, Idumota, Jankara, and Sangross markets. The parties, clubbing and movies sound great, but those are like every other normal-day activities. Perhaps you might want to try something different this Christmas?
Music, drinks and food make fun way better. Rather than spending a day of singing alone in the bathroom, eating and binge-watching old classics like “Home Alone, Elf, and A Christmas Carol, a night out at a Karaoke bar is a good way to spice up your Christmas while in Lagos.
Karaoke bars offer a combined experience of singing, dancing and drinking. Not just a stand-alone activity. You can enjoy your glass of cocktail or red wine while having fun relishing your favorite song tunes.
Places you can karaoke in Lagos include Shaunz Bar — a place where you take a break from your shower sessions. The atmosphere is hippy and has occasional appearances of some music celebrities. It is located at 27 Sanusi Fafunwa Street, Victoria Island, Lagos.
Slay Karaoke House is also a favorite karaoke spot. The karaoke spot is nestled on The RoofTop, Lush Mall, 26 Admiralty Way, Lekki, Lagos. There is a sports viewing bar and a live band accompanied by karaoke competitions.
La Mango Restaurant and Lounge is convenient for Lagos mainlanders who enjoy karaoke. It is at located No 2 Adekunle Fajuyi Way, Ikeja, Lagos. The place has a relaxing ambiance and is picture-worthy.
If you don’t have water phobia, you can decide to try out kayaking. Kayaking is a water sport anyone can explore. It is the use of kayak to move across water. Inagbe Beach Resort which is just a 15-minute boat-ride to Victoria Island is one of the best places to go kayaking. Also, LaCampange Tropicana is a stunning beach resort where kayak lovers can enjoy kayaking.
You can treat yourself to a great experience of the salsa. This is a very unusual dance experience. If you are the type that loves to move your body to rhythmic beats, salsaing is a great catch. This is the reason why Ofelia De La Valette believes that “Danicng is like taking a mini-vacation from the stress of every day- you have to be in the moment.” Span Studio offers these dance classes every day.