Written by Debra Ayis
Growing up in a Christian family in Nigeria introduced me to many traditions associated with Christmas. From as far back as memory can take me, I remember Christmas being my favorite holiday of the year—maybe it was the food, the community, or the fact that I knew I would get a brand new custom-made dress to mark the celebration.
Christmas was a huge affair. Though separate regions in the country celebrated it differently, it was a time of warmth, family, and friends, and of course celebrating Christ our Savior.
In north Nigeria where I was born, there’s a rich mix of Christian and Muslim households. My favorite tradition out of many was the custom of exchanging food with our Muslim neighbors.
To me, this tradition embodied the Spirit of Christmas—the spirit of generosity. It was normal to find families cooking and preparing delicacies days before Christmas, generous offices would provide an unfortunate cow for slaughter to share amongst its staff members.
Each household would carry their haul of meat to be fried, cooked and integrated into different meals such as jollof rice, fried rice, white rice and stew, pepper soup, meatpies, pumpkin stew called miyan taushe (soup for masa or rice cakes in English). There was also an abundance of drinks and snacks such as the zobo drink made from sorrel or roselle flowers, chin-chin, cakes, biscuits, and buns.
Come Christmas morning, kids would pour out of their houses like soldiers on a mission, bearing baskets and trays stacked with food in their parents’ most expensive ceramic and china serveware.
They would make their way to each non-Christian neighbor’s house and offer them a dish. As expected, the neighbors would receive the meal and hand the kids candy, money, or a present as a Christmas gift. After delivering the food, the kids would head back home, change into their very best clothes in honor of Christmas and proceed to church for the morning service.
Like most families, my family would return home after church service to receive a deluge of visitors or we would head out to visit relatives and friends for the day. To a lot of Nigerians and to me personally, Christmas is a wonderful time to reconnect with family, friends, and neighbors. But more importantly, it is a time to reflect on the year gone by and a time to be thankful for the gift of Christ, life, and community.
First published as "What it's like to celebrate Christmas around the world (Nigeria: Sharing in the Spirit of Generosity)" by YMI on 25 December 2018.