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Atoke: Spending Christmas At the Village

Atoke

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IMG_0981Home alone, I envisaged that Christmas this year was going to suck donkey balls. I even planned for my “woe is me, I’m a lonely old lady” narrative when people asked how I spent the holidays. But then my friends saved the day and ensured I had the best Christmas ever!

Over the years, the Christmas holiday has come to mean different things to me. When I was younger, Christmas was the time when we packed our bags, got into the car, and were driven to Ogbomosho (Or Kagara, Pandogari, Mariga, Kaduna or Minna – depending on my father’s overarching plans). Christmas at the village was meant to be such a joyous occasion – spent with family, lots of happy conversations and getting clarity on who was who on the family tree.

It was not.

First of all, Christmas at the village, for me meant A LOT OF HOUSE CHORES. The cooking just never stopped. Think “Magic Porridge Pot” kind of continuous cooking. If the chores at our house in Lagos was X, chores at Ogbomosho were X multiplied by 100. I don’t know where the work came from, but there was always just a lot of work. We had to clean up the house. Unpacking stuff, and cleaning months of caked dirt, dust and cobwebs was no joke. All this was done while visitors who had seen the cars parked in the driveway came trooping in to greet “Awon ara Eko” (The people from Lagos).

My worst memories came from when we stayed at Ile Jagun. Ile Jagun is our family house: a small bungalow, split in the middle by a long narrow corridor with about 8 rooms on either side. There was a communal kitchen, a communal pit latrine (A.k.a Shalanga) and two shower stalls. (I’m being super generous by calling them shower stalls. They’re really just two rooms with windows and a drain in the floor.” Our ‘leg’ of the family was allocated two rooms which we used as bedroom and living room (living room was converted at night into a bedroom that housed all of us) If you wanted cold water, you had to get it out of the Amu (Clay vat) and if you wanted to cook, well… you had to make sure someone from another ‘leg’ of the family wasn’t in the kitchen.

It wasn’t the most comfortable situation, but I wasn’t old enough to argue with my parents so like sheep… we followed. Now, that wasn’t even the worst part of the Ile Jagun era. It was the proximity to our family church that did my head in. Our house was literally next to the church. You’d throw a stone from our front verandah and hit the church wall. But it wasn’t the noise from the organs that was the issue. No! We had to attend prayer meeting at 5am in the morning – in the blistering cold. Yes… Ogbomosho gets really cold in December. Everyday, for the duration of the time we’d be in the village, we’d haul our sleepy selves out of bed at 4.45am, covered in light ankara fabric expecting to raise our voices high to songs from “Iwe Orin Ijo Onitebomi” (Baptist Hymnal)
By the time we moved to our own house, I was just so grateful to be so far away from the church that I didn’t even realise the other blessings of having my own room, and a bathroom with tiles and brown running water.

In retrospect, I’d like to look back and say Christmas at the village wasn’t so bad. Fresh mangoes. Fresh Ewedu. Cousins visiting all the time and saying: “Are you the pharmacist?” No. I’m the lawyer. “Ah okay! You’ve grown oh!”

No… the pleasant visuals aren’t forming.

When I decided to write this piece, I asked an Igbo friend of mine about his family’s yearly trips to the village. Going to the village at Christmas time is an Igbo tradition. It is one they look forward to with great anticipation and they come back raving about how great a time they had. I envied my Igbo friends.

So how did the Igbo homecoming at December tradition start? Chuck said it originated from the insecurities fostered after the Civil War. Many Igbos, unsure of their fate in Nigeria, decided to take precautions and build houses in the villages. Something to serve as an anchor in the event things go awry. Again. Everybody went home. He described it as a happy union of families and friends that included palm wine drinking, breaking of kola nut. It was a time to display the wealth and successes amassed over the months; and for single people it was a time to scope someone from your place to pick as a partner.

As I listened to him with rapt attention, I remembered how just last week my friend had complained that there was still traffic in Lagos at this time of the year. “Wait, are the Igbos not travelling this year?”

So I asked Chuck about what seemed like a drop in the mass exodus rate. He attributed this to tough financial times. Also, the cities are filled with so many enticing and exciting events, that even when people do go to the village for Christmas, they want to quickly come back to “turn up” in Lagos.

As an adult, I don’t have any wistful longing for spending Christmas at Ogbomosho. The roads are bad, and the cousins I’d have gone to spend time with have moved away, in any case. However, I believe that the idea behind Christmas at the village is to spend it with family, and if you can recreate family wherever you are… then you’re good. (Even without the Shalanga and the Baptist Hymnal) Chuck argues that there are some things you just can’t get unless you’re right there… in the motherland, feet buried in red soil, and all that dust stuck to your hair. It’s not really Christmas until you’re in the village. 🙂

How did you spend your Christmas? Please tell me about your Christmas memories – GOOD AND BAD! What’s the highlight of spending Christmas at the village? If you don’t go to your village for Christmas, why not? And finally…do you have a family Christmas ritual? Ours was my dad sharing money for us in envelopes. We always knew what was coming because my mom could never stop asking my Banker cousin for “Aganran that Daddy will use for Father Christmas” (Aganran – Crisp, new notes)

Here’s wishing you a happy new year ahead.

Peace, love &… wait, am I still allowed to sign off this way?

Danngit! I miss you guys!

:* :* :*

You probably wanna read a fancy bio? But first things first! Atoke published a book titled, +234 - An Awkward Guide to Being Nigerian. It's available on Amazon. ;)  Also available at Roving Heights bookstore.Okay, let's go on to the bio: With a Masters degree in Creative Writing from Swansea University, Atoke hopes to be known as more than just a retired foodie and a FitFam adherent. She can be reached for speechwriting, copywriting, letter writing, script writing, ghost writing  and book reviews by email – [email protected]. She tweets with the handle @atoke_ | Check out her Instagram page @atoke_ and visit her website atoke.com for more information.

26 Comments

  1. chincobee

    December 31, 2015 at 1:01 pm

    Happy New Year in advance to you too

    2016 will be glorious for us all

    Chincobee’s Blog

  2. Exotique

    December 31, 2015 at 1:08 pm

    Atoke……thanks for dropping by. Lol. I already decided I would take this year’s Christmas as it comes. So it came. Few outings for me. Hung out with some friends. Slept a lot. Caught up with myself. Its gone now. Set to welcome 2016.

  3. X-Factor

    December 31, 2015 at 1:27 pm

    Wow!!! Missed your writing girlfriend
    These reminiscences tiggers successive surges of Nostalgia… Hmm…Indeed, time changes Yesterday…As the world becomes more globalized and digital, especially with the influence of social media, I am wondering what the Yuletide experience will be in the coming years…

  4. E.A

    December 31, 2015 at 1:29 pm

    Its a shame that the ignorant visting their villages at Christmas are declining, I always envy this about them. Anyway spent the Christmas at home. In London with mom and two other siblings no other immediate family in the U K

  5. Otelemuye

    December 31, 2015 at 1:40 pm

    YAY!!!! I just realized how much I’ve missed your MMB. Yes you are allowed “Peace, love&carrot batons”
    I haven’t gone to my village for Christmas in about 15yrs for the soo-called ‘diabolic’ reasons. I also haven’t been home with family in a while so no Christmas ritual but still I enjoy Christmas away from home 🙂

  6. Neo

    December 31, 2015 at 1:53 pm

    I loooooved Christmas in the village as a child. It happened that most of our neighbours in PH were also from my village so it was just another playground same friends. I would cry for weeks and beg my parents to let me travel with my brothers on Government boat (picture a huge floating overloaded with humans and goods wooden contraption) but the party on it was live! Forget that it took almost 6 hours on the Atlantic it was the party before Christmas. My parents never allowed me and I failed to appreciate the privilege of travelling with the Agip helicopters reserved for village chiefs that made the journey in 15 mins. The actual village experience was mad fun, lots of of fresh seafood and saying “dasi oh” to everyone ensured your leaving the villa with fat wads of 5 naira notes. I miss the experience and I wish it’s something my kids could enjoy.

    These days Christmas is just another public holiday with loads to eat asides it’s spiritual significance.

  7. ElessarisElendil

    December 31, 2015 at 2:05 pm

    Your friend sha????The Christmas return trips are as old as well Christmas in Igboland. Please indicate if O/ if your parents didn’t go home only then it was likely during the New Yam’s or Ani(insert your village) celebration.

    Anyways, the yearly migration back to the Motherlands were equal parts fun and horrible personally. I still remember how excited I was the first time I was conscious about making the trip, coming via road from Kaduna, the joy I felt at meeting all my ‘new’ family, having my six grand-mothers hug me, my pride at meeting my Grand-Father, he always spoke English to me, which was weird because I always wanted to show how much my Igbo had improved, he’d always chuckle and say English was the more important language, an Anglophile that one. As an aside so everybody else’s families were alright with them being pammy addicts right? My hunting trips with “da boyz” are some of my most cherished memories, though it wasn’t hunting in the cool Western style, with guns and hounds, involved a lot of missing with your ‘katapot’ and then hoping the trap caught something good. Let me tell you, you haven’t lived until you’ve tried well peppered broiled iguana. Those trudges across the mini hills and valleys of my hamlet, village and clan lands(I walked a lot) gave me an enduring for nature. Mmanwu really doesn’t need a long explanation on why its awesome, though history books ruined my ethnic chauvinism for me by telling me how the masquerades I thought were so awesome and way better than the grass wearing or hat clad white blanket-men some other tribes call their masquerades were actually an Igala pratice we borrowed(Take that isolationists). Though I’ve never gotten the Atilogwu hype, meh in my opinion.

    Now, I’ll take off my rose-tinted glasses for the terrible part. First, morning mass was terrible, back then it was in Igbo which I sucked at and Enugu cold I’m sure makes Ogbomosho look like Florida in comparison. I was in a polygamous family, you could bite the tension in the atmosphere when all 60(now 77) gathered in one compound. One of the memories that adult me chuckles at is the one time I nearly ate my step Grand-Mother’s abacha. The way I now remember it, my Mother’s head slowly swivels, she’s visibly shocked, then she starts sprinting in slow motion with Bollywood style explosions behind her screaming Noooooooooooooooooooo, while I oblivious continue to take the scrumptious looking abacha closer(the perfeclty peppered Pomo still haunts me) only for my Mother to grab me at the last moment and make polite noises about how abacha runs my stomach simultaneously pinching my cheeks to prevent me from hustling back to the abacha. Worse Christmas trips get worse, my grand-father died when I was 8, we all know what happens next. My friends and I grew apart, two are married now, one died and we really have no common interests now. The Monkeys , squirrels and other animals seem to have migrated, my village is on the PH express so I’m guessing they’ve retreated in the wake of the human advance. The streams have dried up, the river is now a stream. My trips have lost their magic, now I just visit my grand-parent’s graves, catch up with my jand cousins, play video games, avoid family drama and resist the temptation this village girls pose, my village I’m willing to bet has the per capita hottest babes in the land and so naive, a less principled person could become a God! in these parts, Lord give your servant strength!!!

    Another aside, gosh women are so beautiful, I don’t know how Men make up their minds, me I’m a ditherer, spending far too much time admiring from the sidelines.

    To conclude, are homeland trips overrated, definitely, will I take my children, definitely. Do I know why? Nope……….I’m going to go with tradition, for how terrible the trips can get, there’s the occasional magic and sense of awe in the land of your ancestors I would not want my children to miss. It is what it is.

    • Thatgidigirl

      December 31, 2015 at 3:09 pm

      Lmao @60 family member, see drama!

  8. dera

    December 31, 2015 at 2:12 pm

    Missed u girl…Christmas for me is all abt cooking cleaning and washing so I don’t always look forward to it dat much expect the part my sis comes bk with cloths and shoes to give me

  9. I Renette

    December 31, 2015 at 2:42 pm

    I enjoyed this piece! The transition/weaving of ideas was perfect…yum yum!
    Christmas tradition for my family was staying indoors on the actual day, eating (and cooking and washing up) non-stop, and then off to the beach with the extended family on the 26th or 27th. Amazing stuff.

  10. Thatgidigirl

    December 31, 2015 at 3:03 pm

    I disliked going to the village for Xmas, even though the house in the village was more palatial than the one we lived in back in the city (typical of Igbo men). There were the chores and endless guests, and then mum had all these (not so) secret eye movements she would use to tell you who to hug and who to avoid…..like shioooor! Na so so winsh full this village? Greetings where I come from has 3 “salutes” and 3 responses and the greetee would just stand there waiting for you to complete the tedious process, as if to say “if this township rat misses one!”
    I was so scared of the living room, my grandad was buried right in the middle of it, and if for any reason I had to pass through it, I do it in flash mode….2 strides and I’m out. If my mum sends me on an errand to the living room at night, I would sing “he is Looooord” at the top of my voice (hoping to scare the ghosts I guess) till I’m outta there.
    My siblings and I always felt like fish out of water, we weren’t fluent in Igbo,we didn’t have “village wisdom” and my mum was onye ohuhu (a foreigner) .Apparently most of the village winchy winchy you see in nollywood exists…..my dad would attend umuawafor (kinsmen) meetings with his kolanut in his pocket and when he is served kolanut from the general tray he would swap it in his pocket James Bond style. At these meetings everybody covers their palm wine cup with their Palm as per the Jazz na Jackie chan, it can just fly!
    Now that my dad is gone, I really miss home and these annoying times. At the end of the day, they are still precious memories of togetherness and a rich heritage. Although I do not pray to marry a man who HAS to travel to the village every Christmas…..ain’t nobody got time for that.

    • Notanutellalover?

      December 31, 2015 at 7:16 pm

      Lool???the jazz flying around like jackie chan, singing “He is Looooorrrdddd!”
      You gatta warn the evil spirits who they are messing with by singing that song oo!

  11. Ann

    December 31, 2015 at 3:11 pm

    I’m from awka. When I say I’m going to awka people think village but unizik is in Awka so you can imagine how very much a city my village is and I LOVED it! Everything worked in my village, internet oh, instagram oh. There was always so much to do! We would go clubbing! Go to hotels to eat point and kill and isiewu and abacha. Go to parties to scope boys! Kai! So many cousins would come home from the abroad. Kai. I miss it so much. if I end up with an Anambra man, best believe I intend to continue the tradition.

    • Paul

      December 31, 2015 at 8:50 pm

      u mean u had internet service, instagram, twitter and other modern days technology wer all available while growing up ok oh u no get wahala, ar u in anyhow related to mr lie muhamed

    • nunulicious

      January 1, 2016 at 1:35 am

      erm, instagram growing up in your village? how old are you? three, four years old?

  12. Timi

    December 31, 2015 at 3:40 pm

    Atoke are you sure you are not my twin? Your story is exactly mine. We are from Ogbomoso too, difference being I loved going to my hometown as a kid because it was fun, the chores were fun and the house was massive because it was a manse building (grandpa was a Rev.) made of stone; cold but warmed with love till my grandpa died. The house you described in your story has been where we’ve lived for 15 years now and ours is in “California” We have just one room out of the 8 face me, I face you to ourselves (a family of 5 grown people). I stopped going to my hometown during the Christmas season after my grandma was buried in 2009 (grandpa died in 1999) the combination of lack of space, shared living, constant work and the knowledge we have our own modern house located where 90% of our extended family members stay but we cant move because of my dad’s sentimental attachment to the house his father built just prevents me from going to my home town during the Christmas season. I do pine for the Christmas of my childhood sometimes but Christmas is fun in Lagos jare!!!

  13. The real D

    December 31, 2015 at 5:39 pm

    We never went to the villa until I was around 12-13, my mum never went so we stayed put although my dad went every year. So when we showed interest in visiting villa my dad was determined to ensure we had a good time so we would always want to go. So no communal living or cleaning. Our cousins did the cooking, my uncle usually had this big family party but it was one of those ones you see with serious segregation. Men sat together, drank and made dirty jokes, women born into the family had their own group, then you had women married into the family in their own group( this group had hierarchy too based on “seniority”, seniority was not based on age but when your partner married you). For me I felt lost in the entire setting, we could not sit with my dad (inappropriate jokes), neither could we sit with my mum (other wives said we were omo Ile (children of the home). We did not and still dont know many of our paternal cousins (that family is very polygamous so very huge). they were all cooking anyway and they would not let us help because my dad and my uncle had said we couldn’t help so what was done to make us keep coming back was at made us stop going to villa. We were borrrreeeed and just felt out of place. I am Yoruba by the way and my father marks register at villa like diligent school pikin. He visits several times a year.
    As for this year ahhh it was home alone. In recent years my siblings, my parents, hubby and I have always been together for the holidays but since my siblings and I are all going through some crucial changes in our lives individually. We all agreed it was best we did our thing for this year but we are already discussing 2016

  14. Tolu

    December 31, 2015 at 5:42 pm

    Atoke my luf?
    So happy reading ‘you’ today.
    It’s been over 15yrs I traveled home for either Xmas or new year. I can still remember the extremely cold weather in my home town Efon in Ekiti state.

  15. The real D

    December 31, 2015 at 5:53 pm

    On the other hand New Year was the chore for us and in Lagos too, my dad happens to be born on the first day of the year and he likes to celebrate but will refuse to pay for a vendor to cater the event. He always said “it is nothing big, people are only coming to the house and we will just serve them something” but he will not lift a finger so did not appreciate the work that went into it. It became a yearly event that although my parents never sent out invitations, people just always knew that our house was the place to get turnt up come the first. One year my mum decided she had had enough and with guests in our living room, packed all of us into the car and took us out to lunch and that was the end of the New year slavery aka daddy’s birthday.

  16. Ireti

    December 31, 2015 at 6:08 pm

    Atoke, I so love your write-ups. I m from Ogbomosho- Ile Jagun. I spent all my Christmas in Jos, Plateau State & they were the best Christmas have spent so far in life. My father was the only one that travels to Ogbomosho during Christmas. we were generally referred to Ogbomo-Jos by people since we were so many in Jos & rarely go to Ogboms.

  17. Notanutellalover?

    December 31, 2015 at 7:32 pm

    Growing up, christmas dat started by 6am where you will bring out all the fine plates to serve the guests with. Bring out the nicer spoons and glass cups and wash till your fingers start to peel. My mother would have left the house to the market tay tay and will have left strict instructions on what she wants to see upon her arrival
    1. Bring out the “adogan” pot
    2. Get the “faya wood” roaring before she gets back
    3. Make breakfast, the market place saps her energy
    4. Clean the living room, now i hated this part. Harmattan and dark grey tiles never go well because an hour after you clean them, it looks like you havent cleaned in weeks.
    That is how you will clean and cook through out the entire day, with firewood smell oozing from every part of your body!
    My prayer during christmas day would go like, ” Father, dont let any of my crush visit or see me like this today. Let new year resolution of toasting me not change”

    It was a huge relief to start living on my own, this year’s christmas was netflix and a day old thai rice??no time mehn!

    Happy 2016, bella naijarians??? i hope the New Year has great things in store for us all

  18. Jaguar

    December 31, 2015 at 7:50 pm

    The year I was 8 or 9 we spent Christmas at my nan’s in Benin City. One memory stands out; learning cuss words and dirty songs! I learnt an alternate version of ‘jingle bells’ in which “Babangida” flashed onlookers and all everybody did was shout “yeh”! Lol

  19. Timothy

    December 31, 2015 at 7:55 pm

    Nice piece as usual. Your story reminds me a lot about my childhood. We also used to go to our family house in Ijebu and the scenario you painted is almost the same except that there was a Fridge in my grandfather’s room that no one dared go near but everything else you described is the same and i used to hate it and we couldnt argue with my dad. One year, my elder sister revolted and said she wasnt going, it was a really big issue and since my dad wouldnt allow her stay home alone, myself and another had to stay behind. That was how we won the war o.

    Thinking back though, i realise that we actually always end up enjoying it despite our initial misgivings about doing.

    Xmas is still my favourite time of the year even as an adult though i prefer it quiet and have soent the last 5 xmas holidays with 2 of my younger siblings in d UK. Xmas bring such fun memories and its when i get to gear “Feliz Navidad” and Mariah Carey’s “all i want for xmas is you”

  20. Bee

    January 1, 2016 at 1:03 am

    Thanks Atoke. I can totally relate with this. Christmas in the village was fun when I was growing up as we always pampered and attended society parties etc. But everything changed as we attained teenage years. We had to do several chores, cook with firewood, endure the smoke and also fetch water from the stream. Power supply was also not available so it was always boring and quiet. During my undergraduate days i always arguel with my Dad every xmas simply because i wanted to avoid the stress. Marriage eventually freed me from the whole thing.

  21. nunulicious

    January 1, 2016 at 2:05 am

    Christmas and new year was with opa (old pa) and oma (old ma) in Ilorin, kwara state! It brings tears to my eyes now that i am comparing it with what happens now at the in-laws.

    Driving down to Ilorin at night in the land-rover with the harmattan wind seeping in through every nook and cranny made me wonder if that was what winter feels like. On arriving Ilorin, there were days when we would buy suya and the entire family would gather round and take turns picking the suya. and breakfast was this ekuru or pap and akara or bread and bucket milo!! and the daytime we would ride bicycles in GRA side or climb the cashew and mango tree. or disturb the fishes in opa’s pond.

    Then we had ‘performance night’ when we dressed in aso-oke and painted our faces with powder/charcoal mixed with water to depict old-age, wicked woman, or whatever character our first born cousin deemed fit (nollywood ain’t got nothing on us)
    then on sundays, we would all proceed to anglican church in opa’a mercedes benz gold colour. Oma would be bursting with pride by the time my aunt would lead myself and 15 other cousins to do a special rendition of a hymn which we’d practised the night before. mehn, my aunt could pitch to the high heavens o! so many stories, like when opa took the boys out to haunt and one of my cousins pointed the dane gun and shot at another cousin! lol.

    And new year was in the village proper! in arandun town. Where Opa’s two-storey building made of mud still stands till this day despite a fissure running through the middle. in aradun, we did the shalanga moves and even had a ‘haunted house’ too like thatgidigirl. we used to compete to do errands because we would go on forbidden explorations and run in the stream or visit the palace while buying onions (wink).

    now opa and oma are dead and buried and i really really miss them and christmas. sob.

  22. Iamme

    January 2, 2016 at 9:06 am

    Atoke! I love you! Feels good to read your piece again.

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