The Duck of Minerva

GWOC: dispatches from the Nigerian front

31 December 2006

Senan Murray of the BBC reports the gory details.

There are no Christmas decorations, the radio stations are still playing hip-hop and rap and some children recoil at an image of Santa decrying it as evil.

“His costume looks phoney and his face is strange,” says eight-year-old Ifunanya Chima when shown a picture of the benign bearded old man in his trademark red cloak with white fur trimmings.

“We prefer masquerades,” he told me referring to the traditional colourful dancing which is a big part of the festive season here.

But it gets worse.

In the village, Christmas becomes more colourful, with masquerades and dance groups taking over the village square to offer free entertainment for all.

The incorporation of masquerade into Christmas festivities shows the growing influence of traditional African religious rituals on Christianity in Nigeria.

It also shows that many Nigerians have stopped attaching great religious importance to Christmas and simply see it as a social event.

It all started, apparently, when greeters at Nigerian superstores started wishing shoppers “Happy Holidays.” Now we see the horrible fruition of the plot: Christmas celebrations marred by pagan rituals.

And yet, there might be an upside to all this. It seems that commercialization, non-traditional celebrations, and a less sectarian approach to the holiday season actually expands the appeal of Christmas.

“I celebrate Christmas because it’s a time for loads of fun,” says Ibrahim Idris, a Muslim in Abuja.

Christmas clothes take the place of Christmas gifts as excited children and adults try to outdo one another in showing off their best wear during the festive season.

There are big retreats for Nigeria’s fast-growing Pentecostal Christian sects, but these retreats sometimes look like bazaars as they throw up business opportunities for some enterprising people.

Who knew?

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