Published: 27-11-2010, 17:21

Christmas in Nigeria

The west African nation of Nigeria, once a colony of Great Britain, is the most ethnically diverse country in all of Africa. It hosts over 200 different cultural groups that speak 400 different languages. About fifty percent of Nigerians are Muslims. Approximately 40 percent embrace Christianity, and 10 percent adhere to traditional religions. Muslims predominate in northern Nigeria, while Christianity is strongest in the southern part of the country.

Nigeria’s Christians celebrate Christmas by buying their children gifts, especially new clothes and shoes. In large cities children may be taken to department stores where Father Christmas will give them a trinket of some kind. Many shops and businesses decorate their premises for the holiday. Christmas Eve and Christmas Day are often observed with church services.

In Calabar, a city in southeastern Nigeria where many ethnic Ibibio live, wandering companies in colorful attire perform traditional folk dramas and masquerades at Christmas time. Children also don masks made from colored raffia, or hide their faces under heavy makeup, as they gather together in groups that compete with one another to put on the best masquerade combining song, dance, and drumming. Sometimes bystanders will pay them for their efforts with a coin or two.

Many Nigerians living and working far from their native towns and villages travel home to spend Christmas with their families. The added strain on Nigeria’s transportation system often means terrible traffic jams and extreme delays in all modes of public transportation. What’s more, the high concentrations of people on the roads and in the marketplaces inspires bandits, pickpockets, and all manner of thieves to increase their activities during this season of the year. So far these difficulties have not stopped Nigerians from celebrating Christmas with gifts and family reunions.

The Ibo (also spelled Igbo) people, who make up about 28 percent of the country’s population, are especially well known for their devotion to spending Christmas with their families. Although their native lands lie in eastern Nigeria, economic conditions have forced many Ibo to look for work in other parts of the country. Nevertheless, Ibo migrants continue to prize their place in village social life and make every effort to return at Christmas to spend time with family members. These holiday visits also afford them the opportunity to follow the fortunes of friends and acquaintances, and to attend weddings. People often schedule weddings and other important social functions for the Christmas season, so as to include these once-a-year returnees.