Abuja, Nigeria: I have never received a Christmas present. I have received a few presents around Christmas time, but I have never received a present, bought and presented to me, because it’s Christmas.
This may sound a little strange, especially for Western readers. It may even sound like I am sad, lonely and unloved. The questions that may come to mind are, “Why does no one give him presents?” “Doesn’t he have a family? Friends?”
Well, to answer these questions, I have a large and loving family. I also have, I daresay, lots of loving friends spread across the globe. (I hope after you read this, you may become a friend too!)
So, why don’t I receive gifts? The answer is simple – store bought presents are not the hallmark of Christmas here. Rather, love and sharing is.
As Christmas approaches, one will find me travelling home to spend time with my family. I will not be alone. Millions of other people like me from the Christian dominated South-East region of Nigeria will also be travelling home. To me and lots of others, this is the most important gift of Christmas, a time to create memorable moments with loved ones. When I think of my aunts and uncles, cousins and friends, I think first not what to buy for them; rather, which of them am I going to see? Who will I visit? Who has new children? Who has lost someone?
This does not mean that I will go visiting empty-handed. I live in the Northern region of the country where food items are relatively cheaper. I will buy loads of foodstuff as gifts when I make my way home. These will be used in our Christmas celebrations. I will buy these food items, not as a perfunctory gesture of giving, not because I am expected to, but rather because I know it is needed and highly valued and appreciated.
There are lots of cooking to be done. Christmas is a marathon of weddings, reunions, anniversaries and meetings. The cooking and celebrations go on past Christmas day and Boxing Day. My people for instance, celebrate Christmas for seven days with each village hosting the celebrations according to their corresponding market days. There are lots of mouths to be fed, therefore gifted food items are always welcome. When I present the food gift, it will often be followed by a litany of blessings from the elders in the family.
On the rare occasions where one makes expensive gifts of clothes and jewelry, one is confident they will be worn. It is not a Christmas gift per se, rather, it is a gift of love. It could have been given at any other time during the year because it is something that the recipient will need but nevertheless, it’s just as meaningful when gifted at this time of the year. No one will discard these gifts away after the Christmas celebrations as though they were worthless, meaningless junk.
Related Post: The Anti-Consumerist Guide to Christmas Gift Giving
Even though this “culture” of not buying gifts also has to do with the fact that not many people can afford to buy them, this does not make us any less happy. Indeed, I daresay we are the happier for it.
When I read articles on on how much will be spent on shopping this Christmas including the amount wasted on gifts and presents, I literally shudder. According to Deloitte, Americans alone will spend one trillion dollars on Christmas shopping this year. The average amount spent on gifts and presents will be $1,226. I recently heard a presenter sum it up on TV, “It is that time of the year were we use money we don’t have, to buy things we don’t need to impress people we don’t care about.”
While all agree that we adopted the tenets of Christianity and its accompanying Christmas traditions from the West, I can’t help but think that Africans are the true embodiments of the spirit of the season. There is kindness here, a lot of warmth and no dearth of open arms.
This Christmas, I may not receive any presents and that’s fine by me. Would I like a Canon camera as a Christmas gift? Definitely! Would it matter if I don’t get one? Not really.
I am certain I will receive something greater: Love.
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