On another Christmas day, I stay smiling, the harmattan allowing us to wear our suits for once. It was shocking to start receiving messages on the 24th. Wasn’t expecting anything of such, with Facebook, the likes and all. I thought that like birthdays, all messages would be parcelled to my inbox or dropped on my wall. It seems some things don’t change much. And it does seem they do. I decided to think of Christmas again and understand it as being more than simply rice, chicken, soft drinks or well, beer.
Christmas had always been one of those days to me: A busy day of service to people who came about to the house, hoping to be served. My mum always gave the announcement at the end of Mass: “All roads lead to my house.”
Almost everyone in the church would move in procession to our house. There was always something to eat, and some left-over. This would not seem like much to you except if I added that there were times when we would have only a pot of food and a few drinks. Yes, this was usually the case. Mother would go about worrying herself “Would these people have something to eat? Oh…” Then, like some five loaves of bread and two fish miracle, it would go over with left-over. For us, it was our punishment as we would have to serve, clean and all. Well, it was usually punishment till after their eating, most of the visitors would exchange our ‘Merry Christmases’ with some notes, or coins.
But more than that, there were other things to Christmas. It meant going from place to place in group with my siblings and saying ‘Merry Christmas’ and getting a few coins in exchange. Just a few words to get some coins – boy, was it fun. And for all those who refused to give a coin or said, ‘Same to you’ there was a decision reached never to visit that person again. Some other times, visitors came in and gave us the coins or a note. At other times, we were invited. Of the last, I remember when a Priest (we have lived surrounded by churches as far as I can remember) invited us to come and get a package. We all went there in the evening, as appointed and after taking the customary chin-chin, rice and chicken, he called us and gave each one of us money. We smiled our thanks and without a spoken word, decided to hold a brief meeting before getting back home. Perhaps I should have added earlier on that our mother always collected our ‘earnings’ soon as we got home. So, this time, we decided to keep our money. My eldest brother, Gabriel, chaired the meeting. He ruled that we would all remove some percentage of our individual monies and give to our mother while we kept the remaining for ourselves. In this way, all sides would win with her getting her share and us, keeping ours. We applauded, stayed a while back to do the arithmetic of percentage and headed home. Not surprisingly, our mother asked us what the Priest had given us. My eldest brother brought his agreed sacrifice. She smiled and asked my big sister for her own. As she handed the money, my mother asked them if it was all that had been given to them that they were giving her. They answered in the affirmative as she kept asking for the monies of my other siblings till it got to my turn. I gave my agreed share. My mother asked if it was the whole amount again. At this, I went to where I had hidden my own share, got it and gave it to the surprise of my siblings. ‘It’s your business’ they must have thought to themselves and I think added, ‘As long as you don’t betray us.’ My mother shook her head in disappointment later as she told them all to give their complete shares. As my siblings submitted their monies in full, they all wondered how the magic had happened. Our mother, who in the spirit of Christmas forgave us all, told us the full details of our meeting – which we had unwittingly conducted beside the window of the Priest. It turned out the Priest had come to tell her before our arrival…Till date, I wonder if she ever thought about our forgiving her or not for all the collections…Hmm…
There were the other rituals of relations coming from the village and other places for holidays. There were the compulsory snapshots in the famous ‘Christmas clothes’ that had to be gotten always. It didn’t matter sometimes that they were over-sized or out of fashion. You just had to wear them to please the buyer…
That was what Christmas came to be. For five years, I did not experience this as I traversed several lands, sharing different Christmases with various families. I discovered that the traffic to our house after church had reduced. Matter of fact, it was only the Tiv community that came. I noticed that even people who had clashes previously smiled with each other and enjoyed themselves. It was at this time that I realised that the ‘all roads lead to my house’ gave several people a platform to meet and even trade smiles. I did some investigations and discovered that a lot of quarrels had been settled over a plate of my mother’s Christmas rice and soft drinks.
There is hardly any returns for our ‘Merry Christmas’ this time around. This isn’t due to our being grown – which is true. Sadly, perhaps due to economic hardships, a lot of people have lost their touch of the yuletide generosity. Many children carry long faces with fewer of them getting those new clothes that formed the joy of many childhoods. Some households change from the traditional chicken to fish and others, the cheaper pork. Sadder still, there are fewer visits with everyone becoming busier or less friendly.
I try to bring back those memories as my younger sister and I go to the Priest’s house where a new Priest is. We watch a movie and accept a ‘Same to you.’ We walk plenty and have fun when Fidelis, our relation who helps in the house goes out and has more beer than he can contain. His stunts which include some crazy dance steps, pricing almost every item in all the shops around and shouting at the top of his voice is really entertaining.
In the night as my family sits down, exhausted from our various walks, I realise that this is the one time when we can be found together. It has been so for long but I have taken this for granted. This is the time when we can reminisce over those days, thank God for the present and plan for the coming days and just, enjoy the grace of being together. There was always Father singing his great tunes – father; Aunty Pat coming in from Makurdi to our home to share in the fun: both of them no more. There is Dadi, Mr. Charles Ayede (Uncle and foster dad) spending his pocket away to give us fun at some exotic place whenever we visited. Dadi joked only today that Christmas had been postponed and as such there would be no outing. You can imagine the groans…He still found time to take the family out. Hmm. At this Christmas, my eldest brother is several kilometres away, trying to meet a job deadline and perhaps, make it for the New Year celebrations. My eldest sister came in with her fiancé who shares the evening with us . My eldest sister goes to start her own family. We would move to make ours and the reunion of all at Christmas would be shorter and far between. I move around kissing all my siblings and mum in gratitude of the time.
Slowly sleep steals in, time’s change propping me to drown in dreams of better times in hope of best days ahead…
The times are sure changing and we don’t know what tomorrow would bring. Still, we have this time. Let us make each holiday worth the joy for who knows what next year’s would be like? Steal whatever time for love and make it far lovelier. Merry Christmas and no matter what the present looks like, may your New Year be joyful and fulfilling. Amen. Lu dedoo
1. Mr. Ayede passed away in May this year.
2. My sister now married, this Christmas, there is even a nephew King David (through her), seeing his first 25th December like our Lord
3. (Tiv) Be good; Take care; Be blessed…and several other lovely meanings that the minute hold of English can’t present