There were many wonderful memories I had growing up in that predominantly agrarian village where a sizeable portion of the population, with a few exceptions, professed to be Christians.
One of such memories is that of various celebrations which took place in the community on an annual basis. Apart from the universal Easter, Christmas, and New Year celebrations, there were other big festivals that were equally engaged in.
The New Yam Festival,Iwaji, is celebrated in the third quarter of the year to mark the beginning of farm harvests and then followed closely with a festival of dance and music, known as Ogbanigbe. Both festivals which attracted visitors from far and near were ‘traditional’ in nature and were celebrated by almost everyone in that serene community.
However, many ‘serious’ Christians in the land, especially those from the Pentecostal circle, did not join in the Ogbanigbe celebration for fear of being ‘contaminated’. Their sentiment for not participating in the festivals was that such ceremonies were rooted in idolatry and ancestral worship, giving glory to demons and not to the true God.
And they were right – because of some reasons outside the scope of this post.
In those early days, my siblings and I saw ourselves as Christians – having been following our mum to church. But our personal convictions were not very deep. So we were passive participants in the festivals until we became fully detached from their celebrations.
Personally, I can still recall previously having some pleasures in the festivals during my pre-teen years, especially as far as the family feasting aspect of the celebrations was concerned. This was due mainly to the influence of my father in the home, making provisions for special meals to be prepared during those festivals.
Unlike my mother, my father – although a very morally upright man – wasn’t a Christian and so he had a longstanding belief in those festivals. But he never forced any member of the family to participate in them.
By virtue of his status as a respected ‘elder’ in the village at the time, he was given special recognition which required that the festival’s dance parties visited our house to pay the traditional ceremonial homage to him during their main street ogbanigbe carnivals.
The beginning of Change
As time went on, I gave up whatever pleasures I might have had in those festivals. This happened after I became born-again in my early teens and began to be taught the living word of God which empowered me spiritually and also enabled me to make decisions that were in line with my newfound love and passion for the only true God, the Father of the Lord Jesus Christ.
While it is true that becoming born-again helped in realigning my values and focus with respect to the annual festivities of those years, it was not an overnight change. I gradually refrained from having anything whatsoever to do with the ceremonies. The rest is history!
Cerebration by all
Christmas, though popularly known as a Christian festival, was celebrated by everyone around me, irrespective of religious background. But in those days the real essence of it was lost on me and, I believe, to the majority of the celebrants as well.
Growing up then, it didn’t matter if one was a Christian or not, Christmas was a feast for all to celebrate; everyone around, whether they went to church or not, or were involved in the so-called traditional worship, all of us participated in Christmas celebrations.
The only exception I can remember was a girl two years my senior in secondary school, a member of the Jehovah’s Witnesses. She never joined in the celebration of ‘anything’ at all – including Christmas. She even refused to join in reciting the national anthem and other songs we sang in School on the assembly ground every morning.
Before the essence of Christmas hit me
Christmas is the commemoration of the birth of Jesus. But while we all celebrated it, most often than not, not all of us remembered or even cared about the real purpose of it.
We all focused on the fanfare rather than on why Jesus was born in the first place. Sadly that mistake is still observable in many places around the world today.
In my pre-teen years, Christmas time for me meant that we were approaching the time for the longest school holiday in the academic year. That meant I would have more time to play street football with my friends from school and around the neighbourhoods.
Christmas also meant that I was going to get a new set of clothes, a new pair of shoes, a wristwatch and a pair of sunglasses to match. It was particularly fun wearing those pair of eyeglasses. Once you had them on, the grounds appeared to be shifting and un-leveled. Still, we managed to move around in them and then returned home to mama, safely.
At Christmas, relations who lived in cities would return home for family reunions, a once-in-year ritual. We also visited relations and family friends around town, especially on boxing days. We would be lavishly served with rice and chicken and in some cases soft drinks.
And once we stood up to go back home, we would be given some money which the giver would often say, “This is for all of you.” That announcement was necessary to avoid a situation where the direct recipient would think the money was meant for only him or her.
Reports were rampant then of children or teenagers fighting over such money… But fortunately for me, my ‘visitation’ groups were always cooperative, so at the end of the day, we always amicably shared all the accumulated money from such visits.
You can say Christmas was another way of getting money from people you knew, as it appeared everyone was more generous during that time.
Rice and stew very plenty
Back at home from the Christmas day service in the church, there would be plenty of food to eat. Some people would prefer specially made local delicacies on this day. But the children (including yours truly) would relish the specially made Christmas rice and stew.
Our parents made sure they ‘killed’ chicken to serve it along. If anybody’s mum failed to prepare rice and chicken in special stew, especially on the boxing day, he or she would have the feeling that the Christmas for that year was not fantastic.
So basically, our Christmas then like in many other places was full of eating and drinking (mostly soft drinks, no alcohol) visiting families in new outfits, and other forms of celebrations. Not many people remembered or even knew the real essence of Christmas.
Understanding the real essence of Christmas
After I got born-again, I began to understand the true meaning of Christmas. A Saviour was born to save the world. The slogan Christ is the reason for the season became a living reality.
I still wore new clothes at Christmas. I still ate specially prepared meals. But those were no longer my main focus: Christ was and still is.
We became challenged to share the love of God in more active ways – reaching out to people with the true meaning of Christmas.
Yes, we went out for evangelism, sharing the love of Christ in any way we deemed fit. What better way to celebrate Christmas than to tell people the Saviour was born to save them from their sins?
As we celebrate ‘Christmas’, let us remember the ‘Christ’ in it!