Nigerian Christmas Magic

Posted Wednesday, 01 December 2021

Nigerian Christmas Magic

I grew up in a Hindu family in the USA, but for several years, we celebrated Christmas with Indian friends whose daughter had attended Catholic school. That tradition sputtered out by the time I became a teenager. I longed for holiday magic, wonder and delight but never experienced it as a kid. To my dismay, my parents didn’t care much about Indian holidays, either. 

When I had my own children, it was fun pulling out all the stops for them at Christmas, as I had longed for as a child. The tree filled the house with a lovely pine scent, and we covered it with ornaments from every place my husband and I had travelled. On Christmas Eve, we left out cookies for Santa and carrots for his reindeer, and I read to my kids from a children’s Bible. My husband set up a little train around the room that chugged and whistled to surprise our kids when they came down the stairs on Christmas morning. I tried so hard to create traditions and special memories.

We had seven spectacular years of celebrations as parents, and then in November 2011, we left the USA for Nigeria. I’m not sure I’ve ever been busier than in the months preceding our move. I was so frantic worrying about what vaccinations my young kids would need, accumulating a year’s worth of medication and managing my anxiety about my first international move that a lot of things fell by the wayside.

I was overwhelmed. I saw my future as a black hole. I cried about what I would teach my children as a mother in Lagos, knowing nothing of how things operated there.

My husband, thankfully, had lived in Nigeria before. He assured me we would still be ourselves, only in a different place. One of the last things he did before the movers showed up was buy a fake Christmas tree for our future holiday celebrations. This astounded me. I wasn’t capable of thinking that far ahead.

Suddenly, our family was in Lagos. When December and the harmattan dust rolled in, we realised that the Christmas tree would not be arriving until February in our sea shipment.  I wasn’t even clear on where to do my food shopping at that point, so buying gifts for the kids seemed impossible. I managed to find a few battered action figures and my husband procured a shrunken, crooked tree. Compared to the splendours of yore, it made for a terribly depressing sight. 

And yet, the children couldn’t care less. On Christmas morning, they ran around clutching their odd toys like they had longed for them all their lives. They ate candies for breakfast, watched television in a pile and seemed as joyful as they always were at Christmas. All of the holiday magic I had dreamed of as a child was here with us in Nigeria, even without any of the usual holiday trappings.

That night, after the children fell asleep, the power in the flat went out, and I heard a series of explosions. “What’s that?” I asked my husband, terrified. “Is it gunfire?”

“Yes,” he said bravely. “Boko Haram is here.”

My husband is a prankster, yet I believed him and nearly wet myself. Then he grabbed me by the hand and led me to the window. We watched firecrackers exploding over Victoria Island, our arms around each other’s waists like two little kids, awed by the unexpected magic of our first Nigerian Christmas together.

Mona Zutshi Opubor is an Indian-American and Nigerian writer. She holds an MSt in Literature and Arts from the University of Oxford, an MA in Creative Writing from Boston University and a BA in English Literature from Columbia University.


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