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.
My parents’ separation changed everything about our holidays — We went from throwing Christmas parties with family and friends every year, to being miles apart for the holidays.
The night began like any other celebration at our home in Ibadan: new sets of native clothes laid out on Christmas morning, large pots of amala and gbegiri being stirred on firewood behind the house, my mum’s siblings from the UK trooping in with their rascal kids, and Fuji music playing in the background. That was Christmas in Ibadan; an Owambe style party with good food, music and family. Dinner typically ended with raising our glasses to the promises of a new year together with reassuring words to end every holiday. But on this night, our toast ended with, “This is the last time…” My younger sisters and I retreated quietly to our rooms as the guests left our home.
There was no explanation to any of it. My parents were moving to different states, and we had to pack up before the New Year. We spent the rest of the holidays silently packing our home into boxes.
We were set to leave the house on the morning of New Years eve. I was heading to Kwara with my dad while my sisters were leaving for Lagos with my mum. Our bags were packed and placed outside as we waited for the drivers who would take us to the airport. We had about 30 minutes left to say goodbye, but I wanted one last game with my sisters rather than moping around the house waiting. It was one last simple game of hide and seek to end our holidays at Ibadan, or so we thought.
My sisters ran to hide while I faced the wall to count to ten. I could hear them scampering around upstairs trying to hide. It was a big house, but I knew exactly where to find the three of them. I checked underneath the staircase and found one of them hiding behind the empty dispenser bottles. I had two more sisters to find and about twenty minutes left. We moved upstairs to check out the guest room. But no one was there. I was heading to my dad’s closet next, when I heard the car driving in. It was the driver. My dad called for us to come downstairs immediately. Everyone came out except our baby sister.
We called her name a few times but she didn’t answer. We checked underneath the beds, and opened up boxes looking for her. I snuck out to the garage to check, while my other sisters packed the boxes into the car. The garage was empty. I knew she couldn’t have gone outside, but I began to panic.
My parents came out ready to leave, but we still couldn’t find her. I had to come clean about the game, and my dad was furious. He angrily went back into the house to search for her as well, but after an hour, he still couldn’t find her. We finally went outside to check shops on our street and some of the neighbour’s houses as well. Everyone began to panic as we went door to door with no sign of her.
We came back to the house at about 4 p.m., and at this point the driver could no longer wait for us. It was already getting dark outside, so my dad decided to drive to the station to file a police report. He got into the car and turned on the engine. As he was about to reverse out of the compound, we heard a man on the veranda of the next building shouting, “Come down, come down from the car.” We were all puzzled, so we just stared as he waved his hands around. My dad’s window was down so he could hear everything happening. The man ran down to our gate, panting as he said, “There’s someone underneath the car.” My dad jumped down immediately to check underneath. It was my sister. She had slept off in the middle of the game, and didn’t even wake up when my dad dragged her out.
It wasn’t a funny experience at the moment, but maybe it was worth it, because I had one more night together with my family.
It’s been almost ten years apart, but I can still clearly picture us together in our empty house that night, laughing one last time. It’s bittersweet, but I wouldn’t change it for anything.