It’s Highlife or Nothing – A Christmas in Anambra

December 29, 2021

What makes Christmas tick? Is it the Christmas spirit, food, family jokes or the quiet day you get because you were forgotten while travel plans were made? Reminisce with nostalgia as seven Nigerians share their favourite Christmas memories with Zikoko; the places and people that shaped their love for the season.

It’s Highlife or Nothing – A Christmas in Anambra

Highlife music is the highlight of any Igbo Christmas and it was no different for my family. Whether it was on our road trip to the village, cooking or just unwinding with family, highlife music played in the background. There’s just something that happens inside our blood when Osadebe is on the radio.

My Christmas holidays were always coloured with mischief with my cousins at the village. It’d start with an eight hour drive from Lagos to my hometown Umuoji in Anambra State. My family woke up at 5 a.m. to get dressed and load up the Sienna outside with our travelling bags. My dad would crank up the radio to play Osadebe as we drove out of the compound. My siblings and I would then fall asleep for most of the journey. 

A high point of the journey was getting into Asaba. As we approached the head bridge, my brothers woke me up by yelling, “Get your trumpet, we’re almost home. we’re almost home.” With sleepy eyes, I’d blow my imaginary trumpet outside the window in excitement. My dad would then sped up the bridge while my brothers kept screaming, “We’re home, we’re home” to complement the sound of our hooting. The radio automatically switched to the local channels in the South; 96.3 FM in Lagos was completely different in Asaba. We sang along to the Igbo tunes of Osadebe on the radio as we approached Onitsha. I can still picture chewing my mouth and messing up the  lyrics with my siblings.

Two more turns and we were in Umuoji. We drove up to our grandmother’s house; it was a dainty white duplex surrounded by tall, lush coconut trees. The  welcome chants erupted  from my cousins in the compound. As the car came to a stop, they hugged us and helped us unload our bags. We went in through the backyard to greet our grandmother. She was in the middle of feeding scraps of plantain peels to the goats in the sheds as we walked up to hug her. She turned around, smiling as she hugged each of us. My brothers and I went into the parlour to catch up with my cousins. The night ended with my siblings and I catching up with my cousin in the parlor, as we stuffed our mouths with some piping hot yam and red oil from grandma.

After dusting the house and sweeping the compound, we snuck into my late grandfather’s house at the back to play. It is where my grandfather received guests as the head of the home.  My cousin sat on the chair in the middle while we sat around him pretending to be village chiefs. He had a paper crown and kola nuts stolen from grandma’s cupboard. We went on singing Umuoji na sa fo, the best place to be was still Umuoji, round the king as we played in papa’s hut that afternoon. We were just lucky mama never caught. 

The day ended in the kitchen cooking Ofe akwu. The soup is made from pounding palm kernels in a mortar, and squeezing the juice into a pot to boil. My aunty did the pounding, while I ground up spices for the soup. Everyone was seated in the backyard while waiting for the food. There was palm wine going around, with Ndi Afu Owyi Ana by Osadebe on the radio downstairs. 

The banga was served with local rice, which is perfect for the soup. Elders were served soup in traditional bowls on the table, while the rest of us picked any kind of plate and focused on fighting to get the large pieces of meat left. The rest of the evening was spent gisting out in the backyard with my siblings and cousins. We sat on my grandmother’s wooden bench outside, talking under the moonlight, singing and dancing to the sounds of traditional Igbo tunes coming from across the street. 

Adulting happened and life came at me fast. This Christmas, I look back on the good old days,  and the memories make me want to get in a car, turn up Osademe on my speakers and drive to Umuoji.

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