For me, Christmas has always been more about the anticipation of it than the actual day. We spend so long looking forward to Christmas. But there is always at the centre of all this longing for Christmas, a heavy dose of nostalgia. We want yesterday’s Christmases, not tomorrow’s. And my Christmases past were mostly spent in that splendid city of Ilorin.
In Ilorin, you could literally smell Christmas coming. At the end of October or the beginning of November, you could feel the air change as Harmattan beckoned. Cold, dry air, overtaking warm and humid. Cracked lips instead of sweat filled brows. You knew then, that Christmas was coming. You could taste it in the dust-laden air. During the 80s and the early 90s, NTA Ilorin had just two Christmas cassettes. There was Jim Reeves’ ‘Twelve songs of Christmas’ (I am dreaming of a White Christmas was played many, many, many times), and for some weird, and as yet unexplained reason, only one side of Boney M’s 1981 Christmas album (Mary’s Boy Child & Feliz Navidad are the only two Christmas songs I can remember ever being played).
We spent the run up to Christmas guessing which one of our primary school teachers would put on the red suit and don augmented belly that characterised the figure of Father Christmas [No believing in Santa for us!]. When Mr. Alfa played Father Christmas his distinctive voice gave him away; and Mr Ikujini’s very particular walk soon unmasked him.
With bated breath, we looked forward to the Christmas cantatas and the carols on the rock. Ilorin, a primarily Muslim city (We have a mosque and an emir’s palace!) was festooned in tinsel and plastic Christmas trees; our green and yellow taxis all declaring their dreams of a white Christmas. Sometimes, our parents bought us ‘Christmas cloth’ and woe betide the tailor who did not sew up our dazzling Christmas outfit in time. If you had any doubt about who belonged to which family, wait patiently for Christmas, when all will be revealed. Thus. They may look as dissimilar as strangers, but their ‘And co’, matching caps and matching head ties, loudly proclaimed their family ties. It’s not Christmas till we start trying to out-do our neighbours with our Christmas sartorial genius and threatening our tailors with indefinite detention.
We did not revel in the idea of Christmas presents (we had very few) or the dubious ‘magic’ of Christmas. We had jollof rice and chicken – who needs magic when you have jollof. We sang all the wrong words to all the classic Christmas carols [Who ever heard of a ONE-HORSE open sleigh???] We played! Oh how we played. And all the parties at Amusement Park. And NTA would show actual films on television and sometimes stay on air past 10 pm, imagine! But these were the Christmases of my youth. They were all the more beautiful because they can never be replicated. It is not just the absence of departed friends or the scattering of Ilorin’s inhabitants to the four winds or the changes in the world that prevents duplication – it is the innocence of youth that made us bask in the joys of Christmas, oblivious to the weariness of the adult world. It is the joy of a child that makes it Christmas. So we make Christmas beautiful for our children, even if it is not a white Christmas in Ilorin.