Metropole Magazine

Today's Weather: Abuja NG: Partly Cloudy, Day 360|Night 260

24 Dec Written by  Kimberly Ward

Christmas in Abuja

This year, come December 25th, Christmas will happen, but not as I know it. In fact Christmas in Abuja is pretty much exactly like any other day, except for the knowledge within that it is Christmas, and perhaps the larger than usual presence of family and friends around, and extra helpings of Jollof rice and fried goat meat.

A perfect storm of disappointments means I'll be spending my second Christmas in Nigeria; my first was in 2011 when the novelty of heat and sunshine on Christmas Day made it exciting and a picnic at the Millennium Park and a visit to Jos on Boxing Day made for a lovely time.

But after Christmas 2012 in London, Abuja this December feels like a city missing its Christmas spirit. There are feeble attempts here and there at marking the occasion, with lights and Christmas trees and snowmen decorating some stores and homes, but it all rings false and lacks genuine enthusiasm.

I've spent Christmases in America and Spain and they all add their own distinct flavours to the Western concept of Christmas (in Spain there's a greater emphasis on the Three Wise Men with festivals and processions celebrating them). But what I see in Abuja are half-hearted attempts at imitating the Western idea of Christmas, with hollow, misunderstood efforts at manufacturing an atmosphere that doesn't fit the region, and attempts to ignite a collective feeling that just isn't there.

The Christmas traditions of various Nigerians seems to only be exhibited in towns and villages away from the capital, where chicken is slaughtered, families and well-wishers gather and distinct collective cultural traditions, ceremonies and celebrations mark the festivities.

I’ve heard older relatives speak fondly of their childhood memories of Christmas in Nigeria, but such festivities are harder to replicate in Abuja, a city of wealth-seeking immigrants from other parts of Nigeria who arrive to the city called 'No Man's Land' to work, leaving their traditions behind. Many travel back to their home states over the Christmas period, so those of us left in the capital have to make do with glimpses of yuletide cheer dotted around.

In the UK, from early December the impending arrival of Christmas is heralded with much fanfare and the media lead the way in declaring the yuletide season open until the nation becomes abuzz with Christmas activity.

From carol singers outside train stations to Christmas-themed advertising on billboards, television, magazine and radio programming; Christmas lights everywhere, Santa’s Grotto, ice-skating rinks and Christmas fairs, Christmas-only food and gifts in stores immersed in Christmas decorations and music, special church events, special television programming and The Queen’s Christmas message, Christmas has a tangible and familiar character that is acknowledged and celebrated. Entertainers, TV presenters, politicians, business owners, families, schools, organisations, churches and local councils all mark the occasion in familiar ways and there’s a general feeling of rush and capitalism-inspired sentiment in action.

Red and green is the colour, ‘Merry Christmas’ the slogan; jingling bells the soundtrack and Father Christmas the mascot of Christmas in England.

The gift- wrapping, turkey basting, tree-decorating activities also add to the uniqueness of the occasion, but apart from all the activities there's a special Christmas glow and a warm fuzziness, emphasised by the frost outside and the warmth inside and illuminated by flashing neon lights. The heightened enthusiasm inspired by memory, tradition and the media is hard to express and even harder to replicate outside of the season. You become soaked in Christmas until it's all around you and permeates almost every aspect of normal life, until it’s over and the New Year comes round.

However, the reason for the season, the birth of Jesus Christ, is often lost amongst the presents and mistletoe and mulled wine, much to the consternation of Christians everywhere. But I think the fact that the occasion is still so well observed and the focus is on family, sharing and giving celebrate the original event well enough.

Christmas is an occasion, but it's also an emotion fuelled by long-held traditions, national events and the collective excitement that surrounds it.

I shall miss all that this year.