It’s the Christmas season again and many Christians will be busy with their last-minute shopping. Some will be disappointed by their tailors and others, by their bank balance. But for most, it is going to a be largely a period of merriment.
Although, a Muslim who doesn’t celebrate Christmas, I grew up in the midst of Christians and I have a lot of memories of this period. We didn’t always get to wear new clothes like our Christian neighbours on Christmas days, neither did we attend the church service on Christmas mornings, but we participated in everything else. I and my siblings would use our small savings to attend the several Christmas shows in Port Harcourt and return home in the evening, all tired with smiles on our faces.
I remember one of those Christmas days; I, my siblings and neighbours went swimming at the Port Harcourt Civic Centre. When it was time to go home, I discovered one of my shoes was missing. We looked everywhere for it, but it was nowhere to be found. One of our neighbours kept on smiling the whole time; so, I hoped she would turn around and say it was a prank and give me back my shoe, but that was 20 years ago, and I am still yet to hear from her. Don’t ask me how I got home that evening, please.
As kids, Christmas was just about fun and eating deliciously fried chicken doused in well-cooked stew. For some unknown reasons, the Christmas stew tasted very different from everyday stew. Just as wedding Jollof rice tasted differently from normal Jollof rice, and Salah fried meat tasted differently from everyday meat. Maybe it’s psychological or our mothers and aunties and sisters just tend to put more efforts in preparing them very well for these special occasions – we may never know. Who cares?
Of course, we also knew the basics of Christmas, such as it being the day Jesus was born and so on. And who in Port Harcourt would forget those Jesus Christ movies RSTV and NTA would play all day? The movies provided us with the basic knowledge we needed as kids on the Christian version of the birth of Jesus. But no one cared, as long there was food and games, everything else didn’t really matter.
But as I got older and studied more, I slowly began to drift away and a few years later, made a conscious decision to stop getting involved in Christmas activities. Now, on Christmas days, I stay at home and try to treat it as a normal day. At 16, I had begun to question a lot of things. I would read everything I lay my hands on and question every move, speech or action.
It’s Christmas time again and this used to be peak time for the older me in religious debates. It became the season of endless debates on the origin of Christmas and related matters. Was Jesus actually born on the 25th of December? Is it actually part of the Christian faith to celebrate his birthday? These are all legitimate questions. People should be free to question and challenge your beliefs – with respect and wisdom, of course. This is how we learn and improve our general body of knowledge.
However, I don’t think waiting till December or a few days to Christmas before debating with your Christian friends on the legitimacy of Christmas is the correct thing to do. I am all for a healthy debate for the purpose of increasing knowledge, but there’s a thin line between debating with people in order to learn (or educate them) and debating with them just to humiliate them.
Don’t get me wrong, if someone walks up to you and asks why you don’t celebrate Christmas or Easter, then of course, you may respectfully give them your reasons as to why you don’t. This is clearly different from going out of your way to make a post on Social Media on Christmas day – directed at your Christian friends – berating them for celebrating Christmas. Your intentions may be pure, but in a country like Nigeria, considering our diverse religious and ethnic makeup, this may be unwise and could cause bad blood.
Whatever it is you believe about this period, it would be best to keep your debates within your own circle; in a safe, organised space, and not try to rub it in the faces of people whom this season is one of happiness and spiritual reflection. You’ll still have January to November, the following year, to debate with them. But for now, for the sake of tolerance and peace in Nigeria, we are best not trying to hurt the sensitivities of our fellow countrymen who see this season as a spiritual one.
Suleiman Ahmed is a UK-based software engineer and writer. He tweets from @sule365.
The views expressed in this post are those of the author and in no way reflect those of Nigerian Diary.