Monday, December 19, 2005

I'm dreaming of a cold Christmas..

Christmas is upon us, and I can’t help feeling that it just doesn’t work in the tropics. A Christian takeover of a pagan festival shrouded in history, Christmas is a festival for Northern Europe and Northern Europeans above everywhere else. It is a celebration of light amidst the darkness of winter, and of communion despite the cold. It should involve drinking litres of mulled wine and copious mince pies, as well as the odd trifle, all to the sound of a crackling fire. But here, Christmas is bleached of its meaning by the blinding light of the year. How many Nigerians have a clue about the origin of associating Christmas trees with this festival, or an inkling of where Father Christmas/Santa Claus came in? Instead of the ancestral smell of pine invading the house, Nigerians make do with pathetically tacky plastic trees. Ones that make plinky plonky electronic noises that approximate to “Jingle Bells” and go out of tune seem to be favoured above all else. My advice: drop Christmas and invent a festival that is conducive to the climate – a festival of water in the dry season perhaps? Christmas is about as at home in West Africa (or anywhere else hot in December for that matter) as palm trees in Newcastle.


Anonymous,  1:13 pm  

The origins of Christmas have nothing to do with Northern Europe. Northern Europe only began the commercialization of Christmas. What's bad if the rest of the world wants to partake of this commercialization?

Kemi,  3:40 pm  

Sorry Anonymous, but you're wrong. Xmas was originally a pagan tradition. It just wasn't called "Christmas" until the Church and co, decided to christianize it by celebrating the birth od Jesus Christ at the same period to snuff out the pagan aspect of it.

Jesus was not born in December.

uknaija 3:53 pm  
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
uknaija 3:57 pm  

Jeremy, I beg to disagree. Christmas works in Nigeria - it's just different - it's new clothes to wear to church on Christmas morning, it's masquerades and dancing by groups of little boys and girls, it's Nigerian salad (see my blog)with rice and dodo and moi moi. If you say Christmas to me I don't think of snow and mulled wine, it triggers a whole different set of buttons... I remember a carol we used to sing (from Jamaica I think ) at school in Nigeria which was called "Christmas in de tropics" and went something like "When I was a child I do believe, we decorated de house on Christmas eve, With flowers and tropical fruits for you see, in de islands we have no Christmas tree)...And okay, so what's wrong with kitschy artificial Christmas trees? Which I must point out a Nigerian middle class phenomenon- in my village they celebrate Christmas and there's not a Christmas tree in sight.Talking of kitsch,have you been to a restaurant called Shagalinku in Abuja if it still exists? Its red carpets and walls emblazoned with pictures of reindeer and Bambi give new meaning to the word...:-)

Anonymous,  4:22 pm  

christmas can work in naija stripped of grotesque christmas trees and light. yet another opportunity for family gathering and gorging on food as you move from house to house. But Jeremy does have a point we need to find a way of celebrating our own festival in parallel with Christmas - i.e. like the African-American kwanza. we need to find our own reference for things. During the rainy season, the editor of True Love West Africa wrote that it is summer time etc. Now somebody should let her know what part of the hermisphere she is in. She could have easily said Damina season (hausa for rainy season) that would be a cool term to introduce into the broader Nigeria lexicon. Until we invent our own tradition (after the English monarchy are invented)we will continue to ape others. But this is unlikely with the recolonisation of the evenglicos.

Anonymous,  5:15 pm  

To Kemi:

So, how am I wrong? The date of December 25 for Christmas in the Western rite was fixed by the Catholic Church as a replacement for the worship of the sun god by the pagans. What has this got to do with Northern Europe?

Christmas is a religious festivity to which different cultures add their values and celebrations. It is not European but Christian. Christians of different traditions and cultures interpret Christmas in different ways. Some choose to borrow a few things from others – like Nigerians using Christmas trees and Father Christmas. So?

(I am different from the previous anonymous)

Anonymous,  5:51 pm  

The idea that Christmas is a religious festival is not immediately obvious these days to most people in the UK or elsewhere.

How many people who put up trees, give presents, drink mulled wine etc give a moment's thought to the Jesus story in the process? As Jeremy said, Christmas means much more as a festival of light in the depths of the dark north European winter - and refers back to agricultural cults that preceeded christianity by millenia. Yes we call it Christmas, but the festival is an amalgam of various origins, of which Christianity is only one aspect.

In a multi-religious context such as Nigeria, we need more secular rituals and festivals which bring people across faiths together. The American thanksgiving is one such model.

Grace,  9:14 pm  

I prefer Christmas in Nigeria to Christmas in the U.S. And I completely agree with uknaija that Nigerians just have a different spin on it than Europeans. That doesn't make it contrived or shallow. It's possible that you're just not around people who enjoy and celebrate Christmas to the fullest. Some families spend christms eve cooking up a storm, christmas morning in church singing and dancing, and christmas afternoon at home entertaining guests. Many also use the opportunity to deliver food and drink to their muslim neighbours, just like muslims in Lagos will show up on your doorstep with sallah meat when they are celebrating.

I question the assumption that anything derived from Europe in African context is always a parody of the West. Human beings take from other cultures all the time. It's true that european culture was introduced to Africa mainly through colonialism, yet I disagree with the idea that Africans are passive receivers who were 'forced' to love and cherish christianity and the West. I think people convert because they want to, because they see some value in the religion or custom, not necessarily because they are brainwashed.

mw 10:05 pm  


I'm afraid you've just imposed your own mindset as to what contitutes Christmas on the Nigerian, situation - and by doing so, you misfire a little. Christianity is an Eastern religion which the Lords of Rome appropriated as one of the most successful tools in their imposition of Western culture on the rest of the world. One can safely say that xmas trappings like mince-pies, mistletoe and what-not, do not originate from that manger in East Jerusalem. See, 'East Jerusalem' - Palestine.

Where do you want them to find real Norway spruce 'xmas' trees in Nigeria? Or a fat Turkey, a xmas tradition that originated in the country of the same name anyhow... the crossroads of Europe & the Arab world. Things are never what they seem. You want a white chrismas because that is what you are used to. Not necessarily the only valid christmas experience there is.

Christmas in Nigeria has always worked for me. I'm yet to have a perfect christmas in the UK... I've given up on it. If you don't get yourself to family/friends you haven't seen all year in time for Xmas eve, then you're toast. You'll be as lonely as hell, watching Arnie the Terminator on TV. Christmas in Nigeria has a real sense of festivity. Real festivity without breaking the bank and begging your bank manager in January. The house in Naija would be filled to busting, yet the inexplicably extended families would be no imposition... you'd eat and eat... you'll dream you're the stuffed Turkey yourself. And in the small towns, isn't it amazing how food would be sent round from house to house?

Oh God, I've just remembered I'm stuck in England this Christmas. Damn.

Anonymous,  7:00 am  

"It should involve drinking litres of mulled wine and copious mince pies, as well as the odd trifle, all to the sound of a crackling fire. But here, Christmas is bleached of its meaning by the blinding light of the year. How many Nigerians have a clue about the origin of associating Christmas trees with this festival, or an inkling of where Father Christmas/Santa Claus came in? "

i completely disagree, the church may have taken this pagan holiday and made it christian, but after all is said and done, christmas is about the birth of christ... o is not about st.nick who i believe was christian (forgive me if i mispoke and he was just a philantrophist), it is not about wine or mince pies or mistletoe, it is not about a crackling fire or pine trees. all these things you have mentioned is the western spin on christmas, it is incredibly selfish for you to claim it as your own european holiday when christianity is universal. if you want to dream of cold christmas then i too dream of a christmas without snow, without people who will tell you jesus christ never lived out of one corner of their mouth and say merry christmas with the other, of people who insist on happy holidays, of shopping till you drop and then being mean to the very same people you gave presents to on christmas day, without this commercialization. there is no need to invent a festival like kwanzaa, why should we? christian nigerians do not care if jesus was white or black or if christianity is a white man's religion. we have made christmas our own in our own way and it is a pity you do not see that

Kemi,  11:39 am  

OK. I am officially confused, as there are too many anonymouses on here!

My point was that the whole thing of trees, decoration and giving gifts was a pagan holiday.

These pagans were Northern European pagans. I hope that makes things clearer.

I am a Christian and I believe that Xmas is about the birth of Jesus, etc.

But I am completely unable to dissociate Xmas from all the carols, tacky decorations, and the smell of Jollof rice cooking on firewood from the back of the house and everyone in my family being around.

Funke,  5:57 pm  

Xmas to me as a child was jollof rice and chicken on bar beach. I have loads of brilliant memories of a Xmas tree made out of palms from the garden, plenty of family and absolutely no TV. I really miss that. Just thought you would like to know.

TRAE 4:47 pm  

much ado about...Christmas

anyways, Jeremy i wish you and your whole crew joy this festive seasons. 1!

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