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Christmas in Nigeria: Guest post by GTF alumna, Sr. Joanna Okereke, HHCJ, Ph.D.

Sr-Joanna-Okereke“Santa’s Trip from the North Pole to South Eastern Nigeria”

Universally, the Christmas celebration is characterized by an exchange of gifts which signifies an acknowledgement of God’s greatest gift to the world, the gift of Christ. Although, as the saying goes that “Christ is the reason for the season”, Christmas has assumed a more social dimension which makes it an inclusive celebration for Christians and non-Christians alike. Christmas finds deep and profound expression in every culture, among all peoples. Christmas is a joyous time for many, a year after year celebration, yet no one gets tired. During Christmas in South Eastern Nigeria, the weather is not cold; there is no snow, and there are no chimneys. So, how is Christmas celebrated? How will the Christmas elf come?

Christmas season in South Eastern Nigeria starts with Harmattan which is a northeasterly trade wind blowing from the Sahara desert down to West Africa. It is usually cold and dusty making the atmosphere foggy. The Christmas celebration which providentially comes at the end of the year is marked most principally with much shopping and home-coming of city-dwellers. A unique tradition is the homecoming – homecoming for city-dwellers who have left their villages and town for some time. During Christmas, most people decorate their houses with Christmas trees and Churches with the nativity scene. On Christmas Eve and on Christmas day, people go to church to give thanks to God. The church choir and other church groups visit homes to sing Christmas carols. As a block rosary member, I remember with nostalgia the many times I went out singing! Joy to the world the Lord has come; Silent night, holy night, to mention but a few.

Christmas is enjoyed outdoors unlike the western communities. People yearn expectantly for the annual Christmas celebration as a time of great festivity marked with parties, cultural dances, age-group meetings, eating and drinking. Cultural dances are held in open fields or sports stadiums where people of all ages gather for public celebrations. It is equally a time for town-hall meetings for community development. Community and town-hall meetings are scheduled during the Christmas season in order to include the city-dwellers who come home once a year at Christmas. Christmas is not just a family celebration but a community celebration.

Christmas celebration brings families, friends and communities together to share their stories of success in their various life endeavors. For children, especially those in the country-side and those from less-privileged families, Christmas is a special occasion for them to have new clothes and footwear which their parents may not afford during the normal course of the year. It is interesting to note that Christmas has equally become a special season when traditional marriages and church weddings are held. In addition, house-warming events are often held by those who built new houses at Christmas season. Christmas time shows how joyful and excited people are; all of these Christmas stories are making me homesick. All these add great flavor to the Christmas celebration in South Eastern Nigeria, making it a great festivity with profound religious, cultural and social significance.


About Dr. Okereke

Sr. Joanna Okereke, HHCJ, is a Catholic Nun and a member of the Congregation of the Handmaids of the Holy Child Jesus, from Nigeria, who earned the Doctor of Philosophy from the GTF in 2013.  Her thesis was titled, “The Need for Pastoral Care Ministry in Nigeria: A Challenge for the Church.”  She serves as Program Coordinator for the Secretariat of Cultural Diversity in the Church at the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops in Washington, DC.  Dr. Okereke is also the National President of the African Women Religious Conference (AWRC) in the United States; President of the African Conference of Catholic Clergy and Religious in the United States, Washington, DC Metropolitan Area Local Chapter; and Founder of the National Association of African Catholics in the United States.  Read more about Dr. Okereke on our Alumni Profiles page.