By VICTORIA NGOZI IKEANO
AS activities marking 2016 Christmas season and the New Year wind down, let us cast a look back on how one of the greatest events on earth was celebrated. Millions of people look forward eagerly to the Christmas season and many event are planned around it, all aimed at making the Christmas more ‘enjoyable’. Many used to save for the season, from January to December. For many, all their toils are geared towards it.
Thus, many a local contributory scheme is weaved around it, the aim being to have enough money to celebrate during the yuletide, no matter how seemingly poor one is. However, the recession put a spanner in the works disrupting the normal. Thus with delayed, irregular and fractional payment of salaries and wages, coupled with decreasing purchasing power, there was little or nothing left to save during the year.
Most people were preoccupied with being able to feed themselves which for many has been reduced to having two rather than the normal three square meals a day. MMM, the ponzi scheme which many had banked on for a good Christmas gave its Nigerian clients an unforeseen upper cut that knocked them off balance by announcing that there would be no payment in the all important month of December.
In normal times, private-sector employees used to receive bumper salaries in December which is embedded as Christmas bonus to enable them celebrate the yuletide. Such companies used to organise a cocktail of events, called end of year parties that includes rewarding outstanding employees with bumper gifts. Not in 2016. Grappling with an acute shortage of foreign exchange, most manufacturing firms focussed their attention on how to scale the high hurdle of getting forex for essential raw material imports than anything else, in brief, how to survive the hard times. Some closed shops while those that managed to keep their heads above the turbulent waters resorted to mass retrenchment. The normal exchange of hampers and other exotic gift items, including cows and cattle were sparse in 2016. Unemployment queue is lengthening and millions of workers in both public and private sectors did not get their December salaries.
For those who were lucky to get some fraction of their salary arrears in December, the banks played a fast one on them in their hour of need by rationing out cash at ATM machines. They could not get all the cash they desired. Those with cheques could not cash money either as they were told to come back after the Christmas holidays, on Wednesday, December 28. In all it was a relatively ‘cash less’ Christmas 2016.
In normal times, you begin to smell the scent of Christmas when the month of December and concomitant harmattan season set in while streets and organisations, both big and small companies, are decorated with Christmas buntings early December. This week, some did not hang up their decorations until the 19th. Most simply dusted up their old decorations and the decors were somewhat scanty, not as elaborate and eye-catching as used to be the case. The reason for this is not farfetched – a cash strapped economy.
It used to be the case that private commercial entertainment outfits literally sprang up from all corners in December, organising a variety of shows for a handsome fee where top rated artists perform and people dance away their sorrows or better said, momentarily wish their worries away by gyrating from sunset to sunrise. These days however, State governments have stepped in and are taking over the entertainment business, by organising similar fiestas free, for residents in their states.
Needless to add that in this ‘cash less’ 2016 Xmas the masses turned their gaze to the government-sponsored free cultural carnivals. Among them is the notable Calabar Carnival during which time all civil servants compulsorily proceed on their annual leave in December. There is also Imo carnival with the governor giving its workers four weeks holidays from December 19, 2016 to January 19, 2017.
Many other states had a night of Christmas carols at which popular local and national artists were invited to thrill the people. Of course, there was the Lagos’ One Night Fiesta held in the old five divisions of the State with Nigeria’s popular artists in attendance. Anambra State’s 20th anniversary was rounded off in December with a Christmas jam. In the South East, indigenes of various communities are required to come home to their homesteads every four years. It is termed ‘Mass Return’. For Mass Return 2016, I observed that the villages were not over flowing with people as used to be the case in normal times.
Quite a number of people did not return, preferring to pay the associated penalty for absence at meetings, their excuse being that the times are ‘hard’. Still all the communities had their cultural and traditional festivals, conferment of chieftaincy titles, town meetings and other social events that characterise the yuletide here in south eastern Nigeria. Governor Willie Obiano had a busy time as he was listed as special guest of honour in all the cultural festivals by town unions in Anambra State. And he personally graced all of them, for the obvious reason apparently, to curry electoral favour as governorship election is due this 2017
Yes, many of us attended church services on Christmas Eve, Christmas day, December 31 and on 2017 New Year Day to, as we put it, ‘worship our God’. In our hearts of hearts, many of us went to places of worship to offer prayers to God asking Him for one favour or the other. Still, some there were who went there to thank Him genuinely for the grace inherent in the incarnation of Jesus Christ here on earth over 2,000 years ago. It is not enough to attend church services. True worship of God we are told consists of keeping His Divine Laws, through which we ennoble our environment and spread peace around, whether we are rich or poor.
In so doing, we prove our reverence for the Almighty. Ideally a good part of the Christmas season should be spent on reflecting on and thoroughly understanding the message of Christ, the Will of God, rather than enmeshing ourselves for nearly the whole period as is now the case, in useless chatting, eating, drinking and partying. Christmas is a spiritual festival and so should be a season for sober, spiritual reflections.
Ikeano writes via [email protected]