“Glory to God in the highest,
And on earth peace, good will towards men”. Luke 2:14.
When we hear of Christmas in a Nigerian home, different things come to mind; the holidays, family gathering, travelling to one’s home town, community games especially in the eastern part of Nigeria, ceremonies: church weddings, traditional marriage, end of the year parties, etc. food and drinks especially jollof rice (Nigeria’s number 1 way of preparing rice), visitations etc.
That’s exactly everything I think about when the rain stops in late October and early November of every year. We all look forward to it both the Christians and the Muslims, because it also signifies the end of another year and the beginning of a new year with hopes, dreams and aspirations. Businesses at this time of the year start their end of the year sales (50%discount on products and services and trust me Nigerians utilises this opportunity well), groups and organisations start rounding up for the year, caterers become very, very busy. Occasions everywhere (Nigerians love to party), weddings, weddings and weddings everywhere (hmm!!!). But for me, Christmas is a time for relaxation, time with family, the season of the year when I get to eat lots of food without complaints either from within or without, sleep and wake as I like and cook a lot(it’s well).
But last year’s Christmas was different, before that let me introduce myself.
My name is IHEKERENMA ONYINYECHI (if you can’t pronounce the first name don’t worry I understand). I’m 28 years old (even though I look 23). I live in Abuja with my family and I am from Isiala Ngwa south in Abia state, eastern part of Nigeria and I’m Igbo by tribe.
Last year, we travelled as a family to our home town in Abia state for the Christmas celebrations and it was fun (hee!!!).
The journey from Abuja to Abia state was everything; fun, stressful, sleep full (if there’s a word like that), bad road everywhere; we passed several states like Kogi state (after six hours), Enugu state, some part of Imo state (Abia state was formed out of Imo state), but after several hours, approximately 12-14 hours we were home.
We travelled on the 23rd of December. This is because in Naija during the festive season, especially Christmas, if you travel a week or two weeks ahead, your presence will not be felt as much when the celebrations begin. When we arrived the village, we met our uncles, aunties, grandma (the only grandparent alive), imagine the joy she felt when met her great grandson for the first time; showering him with praises, prayers, love and everything you can imagine, his name; Prince Noble is well loved by all relatives and imagine the pride in me when I revealed that I am his godmother (chai!!!). Such a lively and playful child.
On the 24th of December, Christmas work started, thank God for my mom, most ingredients for the celebrations were bought in Abuja. Things like tomatoes (pepper, tatashe all blended etc), onions, cabbage, green pepper, peas, carrots, rice, mostly ingredients that are grown in the northern part of Nigeria. So on that day, we prepared our list and went to one of the biggest village markets; Ubakala in Umuahia south.
OUR MARKET LIST:
Beef (cow meat)
Stockfish for our native soup
Dry fish(mbasa, crayfish, dry catfish)
Vegetables are always grown at home alongside achara.
Soup thickners: offor, achi.
In a typical Igbo man’s house, during celebrations, it is not possible to prepare rice (Nigerian’s favourite delicacy) without preparing our native soup or soups as the case maybe. In our case, our native soup is ofe achara na apurapu egusi. This is what we serve our elders especially the men except they demand for rice but trust ngwa men to eat jollof rice and soup in one plate!!!
STEPS ON HOW TO PREPARE OFE ACHARA:
Wash and boil your stockfish till its tender
Wash your meat (beef, goat etc.) and boil in a separate pot, then add to the stockfish.
Boil with salt, maggi and pepper (no too much seasoning since its soup)
Add all your dry fish. Allow to cook.
Add water, mix your achi with red oil and add to your pot.
Allow to boil very well and also thicken
Add your achara, boil for a few minutes then add your okazi leaves.
On the 25th, we woke up early to prepare the jollof rice for Christmas (as early as 5am ), then by 9am we were all on our way to church for the Christmas service celebrations in our well styled native attires (not new clothes, but clothes we have not worn in the village before). We are Anglicans and the service was nice with a lot of hymns (abu oma), lovely Christmas songs that uplifts ones’ spirit and get to meditating about God and the Angels above. These hymns inspire, motivate, advice, teach, console and most importantly calms and relieves the soul.
EZE AMULU OHURU (CHRISTMAS SON) BY JUDE NNAM
Ihe akuko emela nu o,
Onye obula gbaba egwu
Uwa nile golibe nu o,
Amulu Eze uwa nile
Kristi abiago oo.
Amulu ya n’ulo anu na Bethlehem Judea
K’anyi jee, k’anyi jee
Kelee Eze uwa nile
Kristi mo Eze amulu ohuru.
Lee ka enibere Ya n’agbuke,
Lee Maria ka oku nwa ohuru ya
Okpara Eze nke udo, Emmanuel,
Nna di ebebe, onyeukwu,
By 12pm, the service was over, and as the African tradition, time for greetings; we spent an extra hour in church after the service greeting friends, relatives, and in fact almost the whole village while making promises of visitation.
When we got home, food time (chai!!!) serving guest none stop, like restaurant guest making orders sometimes funny orders like I want jollof rice and soup (how??) while this may be stressful at some point, but this is the time bond well as family, relatives, people from the same clan, village etc. we the younger generation learn more at this rare moments from our elders( parents) histories are being told, teachings made advices being thrown out for willing souls to gasp and make use of them.
On the 26th, another aspect of the celebration begins, that is the football match. This is usually between kindreds, communities etc. and it’s for the youths (hmm!!!) You can only imagine what happens when youth gather for fun; new relationships (abroad boys both serious and unserious ones), drinking, parties, food (remember it’s still Christmas) , visitations and much more. Typically you don’t rest when it’s Christmas, but you have happy stress. This kind of stress we wait impatiently for.
We toil day and night from January to early December non-stop, saving a lot of money but once its December 25th we go all out to relax, have fun, spend time with family and loved ones, new relationships are formed (including marital relationships) , disputes are settled and much more. That is why the song says; “joy to the world, the Lord is come, let earth receive her King”.
Ngwa land is blessed in so many areas such as good soil, good weather, no natural disasters, fruits and vegetables and most importantly, hard working people. Imagine celebrating Christmas when Udara is available; (udara otherwise known as African star apple or African cherry is a seasonal fruit and one out of the numerous fruits grown in Ngwaland).
Early morning of the 27th of December, my elder sister’s (Mrs. Noble) birthday, we woke up to pick udara that fell during the night (the tree is very big); I had plans of picking as much as possible that will last us throughout the day but imagine my disappointment when we went outside and found out that the village children have visited the trees before we woke up. But we were consoled by the palm wine tapper tapping fresh palm wine that he offered us and so our morning routine everyday till we left the village was fresh palm wine and udara while in the afternoon was pear, banana and guava under shade with no noise coming from traffic, grinding machines just you and nature. I love home.
Highlight of our stay was the visitations. We visited distant relatives, friends attended weddings and a few funerals. It was lovely meeting all the people we met learning about our culture, traditions especially during marriages, funerals etc. I call them learning for the future.
When it was time to travel back to Abuja, we became emotional because the past week has been fun, educational and peaceful. Celebrating Christ’s birth with loved ones in a peaceful and loving environment despite our individual differences, struggles in life, and challenges in the past and future, etc. that is why the Christ Jesus says, “peace I give you, my peace I give unto you”. Because He is Emmanuel; God with us.
For unto us a child is born and unto us a son is given, and the government shall be upon His shoulder and He shall be called; Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty one, Everlasting father, Prince of Peace.
Wokoma Ihekerenma Onyinyechi holds a bachelor’s degree in Mass Communication from Madonna University Okija, Anambra state. She was born on the 18th of December 1994. She hails from Isiala Ngwa South in Abia State. She is the fourth child of her parents. She is an upcoming writer and has a passion for nature, emotion and God.