Christmas is a significant event in Nigeria every 25 December, especially for Christians, and the day is marked across the country with a public holiday.
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Nigeria, because it is the most populous nation in all Africa and because of its large economy, it known as the “Giant of Africa.” But Nigeria is not only large. It is also a land of great diversity, containing within itself nearly 500 distinct ethnic groups, each of which generally has its own language and culture. The largest groups are the Yoruba, the Igbo, and the Hausa, but even these make up a relatively small percentage of Nigeria’s 180 million people.
About 48.3 percent of people who live in Nigeria are Christians, with 48.9 percent being Muslims and a very small percentage still holding to African Animistic beliefs. Christmas is a public holiday in Nigeria, but it is not celebrated much in the northern parts of Nigeria, where the Muslim Hausa live. In the southern and central regions, however, almost everyone celebrates it. There are some denominations in Nigeria that do not accept December 25th as the true date of Christ’s birth – and indeed it is almost certainly not – but most of these still participate in the celebrations, observing simply the fact that He was born regardless of the day on which He was born.
In Nigeria, families will gather together on Christmas Eve to throw a party that lasts all night. Those who live in the big cities often travel back to small country villages to attend such parties because many of their relatives still live in rural regions that they left years back to find work in the city. Older relatives, lick parents and grandparents especially tend to reside in the villages, and it is customary to gather where your ancestors live instead of where your siblings live.
After a long night of celebrating, most Nigerians go to church services on Christmas Morning. They thank God for the gift of His Son and for the blessings of the past year. Also, the church’s choir will often go carolling at the homes of church members sometime during the Christmas season.
At home, a Christmas tree and other decorations will be put up, and presents will be exchanges among family members. Christmas dinner will be shared, normally including such dishes as mashed yams, fried rice, roast turkey, grilled meats like goat, sheep, beef, and chicken, and some kind of vegetable salad. Of special importance, however, to the meal is traditional Nigerian jollof rice, which is thought to be an “ancestor” of Louisiana’s jambalaya rice. It is made by frying onions, tomatoes, and pepper in a pan, adding meat stock, and then boiling the rice in the stock. Jollof rice is always red, due to the tomatoes, which is fitting for the Christmas season.
Many children get a new set of clothes from their parents for Christmas and will dress up before going to see Santa. They also go door to door to receive small amounts of money and other gifts, which they use to buy firecrackers. “Bangers” and other types of firecrackers are very popular among Nigerian children at Christmas time.
Should you be travelling in Nigeria around Christmas time, some activities you might want to engage in include:
- Visit Lagos, the largest city in Nigeria, which is located on the western end of the coastal strip. The lights displays and shopping are very impressive, but we want to mention one particular attraction: “Winter Wonderland.” At Winter Wonderland, kids can experience artificial snowfalls, see Santa Claus, play “Mega cheese games,” and have an all-around fun time.
- Visit Abuja, the capital, which sits inland in the very centre of the country. Two of the main attractions are the beautiful, spacious Millennial Park and Silverbird Entertainment Centre, with its theatre, arcade games, shops, and more. You may also want to stay at Berger Life Camp, where many tourists attend carefully planned Christmas events and feast on tasty cuisine.
- Visit Port Harcourt, which is on the Niger River Delta. If in Nigeria early enough, you can attend “Carniriv,” a carnival that runs from about three weeks till about two weeks before Christmas Day. There are many event related to the local culture, local music, and an international “Caribbean” element that has been imported.
Nigerian Christmases are very different from those in the West in many ways, and the tourist can learn much about the local culture during a Christmastime stay. Experiencing Christmas in Nigeria will create memories that will last a lifetime.