On celebrating Christmas

I have no recollection of what Christmas is like in Nigeria. While we were in Nigeria recently, I went to a bank in Lagos and it was decorated for Christmas, with a tree and everything. Living in Nigeria between the ages of nearly three years old to age six, I can’t remember if we set up a tree and put presents under it, like we do in North America. I don’t recall a turkey (is it a Christmas goat instead?). I’m still trying to wrap my head around the question that haunts me: can Christmas still happen if the temperature is more than five degrees above zero Celcius? (The jury is still out on that.) Living in this frozen tundra has changed what I require for it to feel like Christmas.

Needless to say, I’ve always felt that the way we celebrate Christmas here is the “North American” way of doing Christmas, with a few Nigerian elements (um, mostly food elements) but other than that, it seems pretty much like what you’d expect (based on books and television). Any changes that have been made are only to accommodate the fact that we no longer believe in Santa Claus (I’m not sure I ever did, but I know we tried to keep the lie alive for a long time for my brothers); and the fact that we would all rather sleep in than wake up at the crack of dawn to open presents that will still be waiting for us, whether we wake up at six o’clock or 11 o’clock in the morning.

A typical Christmas Day in my household:

  • everyone wakes up by noon at the very latest. There will usually have been lots of yelling to make sure that everyone is awake. The turkey is put in the oven
  • We say a prayer, usually led by my father, thanking God for seeing us through another year.
  • we argue about the best way to open gifts: should we each open a gift? Should everyone collect their gifts from under the tree and open at their own speed? What about the stockings, hung by the chimney with care? Should their contents be examined before or after the main gifts are dealt with?
  • gifts are opened, gratitude is expressed, many pictures are snapped. The elder of my two younger brothers invariably says something to the effect that he doesn’t appreciate any of the gifts he received, sparking another argument
  • My dad and I collect the wrapping paper for the recycling box and things for the garbage
  • Everyone goes off to eat or chill in their room; a very lazy day ensues
  • We eat a delicious dinner that always includes turkey, stuffing (my favourite!), mashed potatoes and vegetables. Nigerian additions to the meal are usually things like dodo, moin moin or other side dishes. If we have dinner guests (my parents like to invite people who don’t have anyone to celebrate with to dine with us), then we might include more food options (stew, rice, eba, etc.)
  • dessert is always pie, which I think the family does on purpose because they know I don’t like it
  • we all collapse in tryptophan-induced comas

Your turn:

  1. What makes Christmas in Nigeria (your part of Nigeria or more generally) unique?
  2. What is YOUR Christmas like? Has it changed depending on where you live?

13 thoughts on “On celebrating Christmas

  1. First of all Merry Xmas in advance this week 2008. I enjoyed this post.

    Orginally from Anambra state, when I was in Nigeria, Xmas was always spent with money. My daddy and mum would give us mum to go shopping for whatever we like. Then my sweet mum made the best food ever, salad, chicken, rice, fish, dodo, drinks and more different food.

    when I relocated to the states 5 yrs ago, it is pretty much the same tradition even at 25. My daddy just gave us our money to go spoil ourselves for Xmas this week. It doesn't matter how old you are, he gave 4 of my sibblings enough money to go shopping and buy clothes, shoes, anything you love. I don't know what we are doing this Thursday but pretty much, I am sure of good AFrican food, America desserts and a great movie…..also, prayer and lots of phone call is part of the tradition. Our phone rings like Crazy on Xmas morning. Every family and extended family is calling our house like crazy. All I care for is my money and good food.lol


  2. Like you I've spent most of my Christmases that I can remember over in the states. In fact, the very first Christmas I spent here it snowed (in Florida, mind you) and I thought it would be like that all the time. It hasn't snowed since, lol. Very random story, sorry!

    Anyway, our Christmas traditions are eerily similar to yours. The only thing that usually varies is the amount of people around. Sometime just my mother, father and I and then sometimes it's the whole clan.

  3. Usually spend Christmas indoors with my husband and daughter, then pray no one comes to visit……..am not a good cook .

  4. lol… yes, tree decorating has for a while now becoe a part of the Lagos Christmas. most people also eat themselves into stupor in the company of family.

    gifts under the Christmas tree… well, my mom used to do that. lets see if she does this year!

    thats pretty much it, i think.

  5. @YNC

    Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to you!

    It sounds like Christmas is fun for you too! I forgot to mention that we spend the day making and answering phone calls too. That's very much a part of our Christmas.


    Snow in Florida? Who knew it was even possible! Are you an only child?


    Not a good cook? I thought all Nigerians were born cooking and cooking well? ;)


    Hello singing blogger! lol "eat themselves into a stupor". I hope you have some lovely gifts under the tree — Merry Christmas!

  6. Used to spend ours the same way!

    Now, since everyone in the house is too old…we've done away with xmas trees and worse…we now don't buy gifts for every person…just the folks….

    Spend xmas morning at church for bout an hour and half, come back home to eat, and then family come over and the telephone calls back home begin with everyone passing the phone around so say a quick merry xmas…. and then we gossip….lol…u know….where one member of the family or the other is or who got married or engaged…. dis & dat…lol….pretty interesting…

    This year, i really just want to sleep the day away…

  7. Funnily, I just posted something on my blog about MY CHRISTMAS'. The only thing I am looking forward to right now is our family christmas party. It's a lot of fun. Wish I could drag you along!

  8. Christmas in nigeria for me meant waking up at 6am to help musy and the maids in preparing food…the goat would have been killed by the boys, we made pepper soup, jollof rice, wite rice, stew, salad, chicken…

    then serve the guests till you cant manage one more fake smile…

    now….I dont bother getting up from bed the whole day..

    the house is mine…………..

  9. Christmas is about the birth of Jesus so the temperature has nothing to do with it.

    In Nigeria, I grew up putting up a christmas tree even in my Grandmas village house we had a tree and lights. We also went to Christmas carols in Sheraton and saw Santa. My primary school also had Santa and we'd pay to get presents. Its jall just a legacy of European colonization its part of our identities/ mixed heritages.

    I'm from the North so we cook chicken and cow/ beef not goats for christmas.

    Whatever and however, Its Christ-mass Jesus Christ's birthday symbolic remembrance whether in the tropic heat or temperate snow.

  10. My Christmas has been boring since I left 9ja 3years ago. First one my aunt and uncle were working so we ate boiled yam and stew. Second one was with my host family which was full of their oyibo relatives (similar to home but without the Nigerian flavor). This one is yet to come….

    I can't wait to return to a Nigerian warm christmas.

    Christmas in the US is so commercialized and kinda skews ones understanding of the holiday.

  11. I am an African American woman and Christmas with my family is a little different than the Nigerian celebrations you describe, but not that much. My family has a really interesting tradition that I would liek to share.

    My grandparents both worked when the kids were small and many times would have to work Christmas, so, they started celebrating Christmas Eve so that they could have family time. As their kids married, this worked out well so their kids could spend the holiday with their in-laws. Christmas Eve night we go to my grandparents' home and all their kids, 19 grand kids, 19 great grandkids, and 1 great-great grand kid, their respective spouses, family friends and other extended cousins and neighbors who may be passing by cram into the small, small living room. We read the scripture, pray, and sing carols. Then, we have a talent show for the anyone who wants to perform.

    After the talent show, we have guests to judge our cooking contest. That is right, we love to cook and have a cooking contest. This year we divided into teams and each team is assigned a country and you prepare a full meal in that country's tradition. We have done African countries in the past but this year I think we are doing Thailand, Japan, Italy and France. The cooking contest is hotly contested. You get bragging rights for a year and a $5 prize.

    We all tell what we are thankful for and exchange gifts. No one is required to bring a gift but you give what you can to who you can. Everyone gives to my grandparents. We adopted a family into our own family who lost their mother and the kids are small. My grandparents insist on giving all the grandkids, great grandkids, their spouses and friends $5 each. It adds up. They will not take the money back if you try to give them your $5 back to them (However, they will gladly take your $10s, $20s, $100s, etc.)

    We love each other and thank God for one another. There is nothing like family.

  12. Growing up, Christmas has always been a very festive time (my family is very festive in general). We had the whole tree (plastic of course), garlands all over the house. Christmas' Eve, we had a party with all my aunts and uncles (my mom has 13 siblings) and cousins. It was usually very riotous and fun.

    And of course, it was ALWAYS about food!!! There had to be the mandatory roasted pork (a whole piglet) stuffed with all kinds of delicious pates, sausages and the likes. And also always had a fantastic buche de noel.

    At midnight on Christmas Eve, the kids would run in the bedroom for Santa to come in and put the gifts on their shoes under the tree. It's the one thing my family did, we opened the gifts on Christmas' Eve after midnight.

    My Christmas has changed a bit since I haven't been able to have everybody around at once like in my childhood years. Last year was the closest we got to doing that.

    A must for me at all christmas is some form of roasted pork. It just spells christmas to me. And I put up a tree and/or lights… This year I am attempting my hand at a homemade buche de Noel, we'll see what that comes out to be.

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