Christmas is a prayer answered in whispers of love. It is a gift wrapped in the cold, gusty wind of harmattan; a season when the fog enfolds the hills in a fleeting embrace at dawn…a time when the dew falls in silent mercy to the plea of starving flowers.
And when dry winds carry our laughter to the mockingbird; and the whispering pines sway to the rhythm of unsung verses, it is Christmas in Igboland. Yes, Ndigbo have since taken ownership of this feast and made it their own.
It is not difficult to see why Ndigbo love Christmas. The reality is that beyond James Pierpont’s ‘Jingle Bells’ and other infectious songs of the season, Christmas offers Ndigbo a perfect time to lift the foot off the gas pedal of an intensely driven life and catch some breath for a moment or two.
Christmas comes at a time of the year when rest is a necessary indulgence and when stocktaking is almost irresistible. As a highly migrant people with great adaptive inclination, Ndigbo are usually everywhere on the planet but their homeland. And while Igboland heaves with traditional festivals all-year-round, Ndigbo have yet to adopt a single cultural festival that would be celebrated across the vast geography of their homeland. Every Igbo town and community has their own cultural festivals and special days. The only day in recent memory that the Igbo have widely accepted as their own is the Igbo Day which was made popular by Nnamdi Kanu and IPOB. While this is a huge achievement and great landmark in our on-going evolution, the Igbo Day is a day of memory; solemn and reflective. It is not a day for feasting and merriment.
The Ohaneze Ndigbo under the leadership of the charismatic and cerebral Nnia Nwodo would do well to adopt the Igbo Day and develop it into a full festival with two major components that would tell the Igbo story. A re-imagined Igbo Day should have a Day of Memory and a Day of Celebration. The Day of Memory should be set aside for reflection and stocktaking and tributes to the historical tragedies that blighted our past. It should be a day to preserve the memories of the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade and its epic Igbo Landing milestone, the pogroms and the Biafran War. The Day of Celebration on the other hand would naturally celebrate the resilience of the Igbo spirit, the profundity of Igbo genius as shown in the scientific achievements of the Biafran War, the Igbo contributions to modern civilization as well as the Igbo survival and success stories against all odds in the nation-space of Nigeria. A fully developed Igbo Day will not only serve as a counterpoise to Christmas in Igboland but it will provide the much needed dualism in the Igbo world view which insists that no phenomenon should exist alone. Ihe kwulu, ihe akwudebe ya!
Until the Igbo leadership finally sets aside such a significant day that is acceptable to the Igbo universe, the feast of Christmas will continue to fill this immense void. For there is an urgent need for the Igbo to evolve into a more homogenous group with shared experiences and memes that will enhance its collective consciousness and deepen its sense of pride in the 21st Century. And until that happens, Christmas will remain the dominant feast in our lives.
Everything falls together at Christmas. The soothing chill of the season, the languid air that lulls us to sleep, the brittleness of life and the pervading cloud of happiness that Christmas induces will always be with us. And beyond the Jingle Bells of melodious carols, the bell of life tolls on everything under the sun. And our young ones must find love and marry. And families separated by the quest for survival with occasional adaptations in hostile territories must come together again to smile into each other’s faces. And our young men who have made good must come home to show love to families and friends whose prayers and goodwill had forced open the hand of providence upon them. And all of these must happen at Christmas. At the moment!
And though we may not always say it or admit it, Christmas is actually more than December 25 to Ndigbo. It is a long period that stretches from the second week of December to the first week in January of the following year. It is a period when most Igbo communities place a ban on funerals and things that invoke sorrow to celebrate the very idea of life. It is a time when most Igbo communities pool resources together to build community projects and when villages and families torn apart by dispute finally sit at the roundtable of peace and brotherhood. It is a season for football competitions, masquerade displays, beauty pageants and family Thanksgiving. It is the only time of the year that we all look forward to… the only time when the Igbo thinks with unthinkable fondness about the homeland!
And if you are reading this peace in your hometown or in the vast Igbo Diaspora, I wish you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!
By James Eze