Christmas is about giving and receiving – Even when you have very little, it’s traditional in Nigeria to share what you have with family, friends and neighbours.
A special meal might be a plate of rice and stew and a small piece of chicken, accompanied by a bottle of ‘Mineral’ (a fizzy soft drink). Friends and visitors will also share ‘cin-cin’ – sweet cubes of fried dough.
Christmas is about going to church – If you’re a Christian, it’s traditional to celebrate the birth of Jesus (no manger scenes though) with at least a two-three-hour service of celebration, followed by a shared lunch.
Christmas is about travelling – Typically, many people will visit their friends and relatives at Christmas to share what they have. If money allows, women traditionally receive a ‘wrapper’ (a piece of cloth) from which to make a special outfit.
Christmas is about visitors – It’s a huge time for hospitality and is all about sitting and chatting, sharing the highs and lows of the year. People drop in at any time, on any day, and you’re expected to feed them or at least give them a ‘Mineral’! Rice and stew and chicken and cin–cin are shared until you run out and you go visit others!
Christmas is about new clothes – If they can afford it, parents buy or have new clothes made for their children as their Christmas presents. On Christmas Day, the church is bright and colourful with many children with newly-braided hair wearing their ‘Christmas’ outfit (often matching with their brothers and sisters) who love walking around with their friends showing off their new clothes!
Christmas in our ministry is about younger ones – reciting memory verses (often the first 20 verses of Luke, Chapter 2), singing special songs and dancing, while the older ones love to do dance routines to the songs they sing.
They’re so good at singing and dancing with inbuilt rhythm, unlike their ‘bature’ (white ) mother and also love to test their Bible knowledge with quizzes against their teachers and parents. Of course, they also eat special food, in this case, a rich dish of ‘jollof‘, which is vegetable rice with a small chunk of beef, accompanied by a Mineral.
Christmas in Bassa (our teenage girls centre ) is about making hundreds of Christmas cookies – The girls decorate them and package them with homemade gift cards, which we then give out while carol-singing around our neighbours.
We hopefully make a joyful noise as we go in the pitch black bringing joy to a struggling community. Sometimes, we get given a yam, a packet of spaghetti or even a live chicken to accompany us as we go! The girls love it and the community have a chance to be reminded that a Saviour has been born – Christ is the reason for the season.
So Christmas in Nigeria is simple but lovely. What can be shared is shared and sharing love and hospitality is what this very social country loves to do as people spend precious time with family and friends and neighbours
We in the western world can learn a few lessons from them…