Christmas in Nigeria (West Africa)
A Brief History
Nigeria’s official name is The Federal Republic of Nigeria. It has the largest population of any African country. Due to its number of ethnic and linguistic groups (over 250), Nigeria was divided into 21 states, which eased some of the political tensions caused by such diversity. Owing to its geographical location on the west coast of Africa, Nigeria was another country that found itself at the center of the slave trade. Portuguese, the first Europeans to arrive in Nigeria, established the trade there, which the British joined in by the 17th century. However, the British later outlawed slavery and eventually had to use force to assure the practice was eradicated. Nigeria became independent in 1960, becoming a federal republic in 1963.
As with a number of African countries, Christianity came to Nigeria by way of Scottish Presbyterian missionaries. The most famous of these missionaries was Mary Slessor. Inspired by accounts of the life of her missionary hero, David Livingstone, Mary answered the call to missions in Africa. Called the White Queen of Calabar or ‘white ma,’ she spent the last thirty-eight years of her life ministering in Nigeria. She became the first woman to be featured on Scottish currency. Her face replaced that of David Livingstone on the 10 pound note in Scotland beginning in 1998. The majority of African students attending Scottish universities during the 19th century came from Nigeria. Even today there is a strong affinity for Scotland in Nigeria.
Nigeria is now a country almost evenly divided between Muslims and Christians in its religious demographic. However, Nigerians tend to have no problem assimilating traditions from various beliefs into their lives. Therefore, Christmas is a public holiday and celebrated by Christians and non-Christians alike. For Nigerians, Christmas is a time for visiting relatives and old friends; this is why it is important to many Christians to return to their ancestral towns to celebrate with their loved ones. Nigerians enjoy church, carnivals, all-night Christmas Eve parties, firecrackers, and hours-long Christmas services. People decorate their houses, shops, streets and churches with palm fronds, which by tradition symbolize peace. There are also paper decorations and lights everywhere. New clothes to wear to Christmas church service is an important part of the celebration as well.
As with most Christmas celebrations around the world, food is an essential part of the celebrations in Nigeria. It is traditional to prepare iyan (pounded yam with vegetable stew and hot chili) to offer to visitors and it is considered impolite to decline. A typical meal for Christmas lunch is rice with chicken stew or jollof rice which is boiled rice with stew, chilies and fish mixed in. Also popular is moin-moin (also called moyin-moyin) which is black eyed peas topped with a mixture of vegetable oil, chopped liver, small pieces of chicken, beef, fish or prawn, and diced boiled eggs wrapped in large leaves and then boiled. The feasting is not complete without Christmas cake. Exchanging gifts and singing Christmas carols are also an important part of the celebration. The Christmas finale includes fire crackers such as ‘biscos’ or ‘bangers.’
There are many languages spoken in Nigeria. Merry Christmas in Yoruba is “E ku odun, e ku iye'dun”; in Fulani it is "Jabbama be salla Krismati."
Nigeria is a bi-religious country, with about half of the populous practicing Christianity and the other half Islam. The northern portion of Nigeria is predominantly Muslim, including being governed by strict Islamic Sharia Law. The predominantly Christian Yoruba and Igbo people populate the south. According to the Open Doors World Watch List, Christians in Northern Nigeria are severely limited in their ability to practice their faith. Many people have suffered harm at the hands of Muslim extremists. Please pray for persecuted Christians in the north. Pray for peace in Nigeria between the many diverse groups, and for the growth of Christianity throughout Nigeria.