Michael NnebeMonday, December 30, 2013




ou can imagine how disappointed I was when I learnt that Jerusalem was a city on earth, and not in heaven like I had presumed as a child in Sunday school. Likewise my dreams about Christmas, my grand illusions of utopia on Christmas day have gradually filtered away over the years. Growing up, Christmas was something to look forward to. The academic school year ran from January to December back then, and to have a great Christmas one must study hard and bring home a result that is exceptional, or you may end up with a less than desirable Christmas gift from your parents. In fact, my parents basically threatened me that I should forget about my choice of Christmas clothing if I'm not in the top three in my class. Such was the pressure, and equally the great expectation when these requirements are met.

Everything begins to change from the first week in December when the season of harmattan appears. Soon the church youth movement starts their annual house-to-house patrol to the homes of prominent members of the church, and other rich residents that can make a handsome donation. Then it is the season of Christmas Carol by the church choir, and the house-to-house visits that follows. Who can forget the Nkpokiti, Etielogu, and various dances that are launched by several groups at Christmas, or the town's women resident in another big city who have come home to unveil their special dance to the town, often at Christmas. And then, of course, all the masquerades of different shapes and colors that patrol the village streets throughout the Christmas season.

But for me, it is not Christmas yet until I wake up on Christmas morning and inhale that unmistakable smell of the burning skins of goats and cows around the neighborhood. On Christmas day proper, in my brand new Christmas clothes, I'd make the rounds to all my uncles and aunties houses, forced to eat another plate of rice at each stop, until my stomach is so full and my pockets bursting with Christmas cash gifts. The spirit that permeates the whole town or village in the weeks leading to Christmas is like none other, and can never be replicated at any other time of the year except at Christmas. I so much long and look forward to these that I usually start fantasizing about them months in advance. And each Christmas seemed to exceed the one before in grandeur, and in the blissfulness of its experience.

Oh well, that was then. All those experiences have now been lost to me forever. Once I left the shores of this country everything changed. I believe that my first Christmas overseas was back in London in 1982. In a few weeks leading to Christmas all I heard about were promotions on Christmas shopping, and on the 25th of December, it was as if somebody died and whole streets were completely deserted. The experience was so shocking and traumatizing to me that I swore never again to celebrate Christmas in England. But this madness was taken to even greater heights when I moved over to the US and found out that Christmas was in fact, the biggest business ever invented by white people. There, Christmas always began early, on the last Friday in November or the day after thanksgiving; the so called black Friday when all the shops began their Christmas shopping promotions.

Today in the western world (thanks to America) Christmas is now all about Santa Clause, all the shopping you can charge on your credit card, gifts for friends and loved ones, and incidentally nothing whatsoever about Christ whose birth we are celebrating at Christmas. It is true that nobody knows for sure the day Christ was born. The world calendars have changed so many times and although most calendars were harmonized from Julian and others into the Gregorian Calendar less than five hundred years ago, differences still remain today between the standard Gregorian, the Chinese, the Hebrew, Christian orthodox, Ethiopian, etc. According to historians, the actual year of birth could be off by up to three years on our current calendar. The bottom line, however, is that once we have earmarked a date to celebrate Christ, we should at least endeavor to uplift him on that day, and in that season.

In spite of my disappointments with western countries on the actual meaning of Christmas, nothing prepared me for what I have been witnessing in Igbo land since my return. Christmas is now a different thing altogether; it has become the preferred season for winecarryings (traditional marriage), weddings, house openings, and other launchings people see fit to schedule during this season. Most towns have now banned burials during this window of about four weeks, but a few powerful men still have their way in some places. For me, there's hardly any resemblance of the Christmas activities I witnessed growing up. Perhaps it might be that the relatively authentic village setting of my beloved Awka is now a metropolis. As a state capital (though still undeveloped) most village activities have largely disappeared, and all that is left now to enjoy at Christmas is the winecarryings and the likes. How awful!

This time around I have attended seven winecarryings by my last count. A couple of them right here in the city of Enugu, one in Abia, and the rest have been at Anambra state. They are mostly colorful; the celebration of a new beginning by two young people stepping into a world unknown to them. I am still encouraged, for in places like Umunze (Anambra), and Isuochi (Abia) I saw some masquerades along the streets, and many young people out on the streets going about their Christmas visits as I once did in my youth. In the next few days I have yet another half a dozen winecarryings to attend, three weddings, and yes, a burial in Arondizuogu. What is remarkable at Christmas in Igbo land is that now we have more marriages than burials, it is a good thing. It does not mean that people have not died, no, quite the contrary; they are simply forced to be kept at the mortuaries until after the festivities are over. Usually I count seven burials for each winecarrying I attend, now it is the reverse for a change.

For those who are brave enough to make it back this Christmas, (I say brave because kidnapping is still ongoing, especially in Anambra state) I'm sure you have enjoyed yourself. There is no shortage of functions to attend. I have also enjoyed myself by attending many of these colorful functions. But if I must be honest about my feelings; it is no longer Christmas the way that I knew it. We have not commercialized it like the Americans and the Europeans, but we are gradually changing the meaning of Christmas in Igbo land. It has become the preferred time for functions, and it is all good, but somehow we seem to have lost the meaning of Christmas, just like the Americans and the Europeans, and as a consequence I have lost my Christmas spirit. I have, however, been drinking a lot of authentic palm wine lately, just my own way of celebrating Christ's birthday. After all, according to the bible, he was the one that turned water into wine…palm wine that is. Chukwu mere anyi ebere.

Have a happy New Year!

Michael Nnebe is a former Wall Street Investment Banker and the Author of several novels, including; Every Dream Has A Price, Riverside Park, Blood Covenant, Gloomy Shadows, Passing wishes, Prime Suspect, and others.