Growing up, I witnessed three festive seasons in Nigeria. The most popular festive seasons were Christmas, New Year and Easter. In some parts of Nigeria, asking someone not to go back to the village during the Christmas season is equivalent to depriving him of life, that was the level of importance it had on the people. It is more like a homecoming, a mandatory one for those living outside Nigeria or their respective villages. Christmas parties are thrown by families in the community on Christmas Eve, and these parties last all night long ushering in the holy birth of Jesus Christ with family and friends. As with the celebrations in the rest of the world, Nigerians decorate their households well and also display a lovely Christmas tree (although artificial). As children, we would burst crackers, sing carols and hope for Santa to bring us our gifts!
So what would a Nigerian Christmas feast be like, you wonder? The traditional Christmas meal in Nigeria may have goat meat, beef, sheep or chicken or Turkey. A Nigerian Christmas feast will also include jollof rice, pounded yam with a choice of soup, fried rice, salads, and stew.
Now coming to the New Year celebrations, similar to what we did for Christmas, kids and young adults would burst firecrackers to ring in the New Year. Some families may organize parties that would mean spending time with your loved ones all night long and ushering in the New Year together. All these celebrations are definitely accompanied by lots of food and drink. The traditional dishes of Nigeria do make an appearance majorly in all such parties and feasts, the drinks include beer, wines, palm wine, local brews and fruit juices as well.
This brings us to the next important festive season in Nigeria – Easter. This is another festival, another season of celebration where everyone, once again, travels back to the village to spend the holiday with their families. In recent years, people travel abroad with their immediate family to celebrate Easter. This festival has more religious importance among Christian Nigerians. They attend mass at the church and pray to their beloved God and for their people.
When I was growing up, we would celebrate what we called “New Yam festival” in the community. This was a celebration of the new yam season. Most of the people see this new yam festival as a fetish ceremony. The festival is accompanied by local dances, food and of course, food. This festival is held at the end of the rainy season (early August). It is also something like a thanksgiving to God for the yam crop. In Nigeria, this yam festival has different names and they all have the same theme – generally, people offer the yams to gods and their ancestors before distributing them to the villagers, as a token of thanksgiving.
So, what are the most popular festivals in your country? What is the feast like, what do you prepare? Do let me know!