2020 was a unique year that saw some of the most unfortunate events occur in quick succession. Chief amongst them was the infamous emergence of the coronavirus which threw economies, lives and most recently, the annual celebration of Christmas into layered jeopardy.

As reported by Pulse Nigeria earlier in December 2020, there was a fear amongst Nigerians that the slew of events and nightly debauchery that’s become known as ‘Detty December’ wouldn't hold.

And those fears became reality as state governments across the country banned large gatherings that could propel the second coming of the novel coronavirus.

But at the heart of it, young Nigerians still found a way to enjoy life and be happy. Some found it on the beach; some in furtively open bars, clubs and restaurants; some in Ghana and some in Dubai.

But all along, it didn’t feel like young Nigerians were especially celebrating Christmas; it felt like they took the opportunity to blow off steam, and it’s been this way for years.

More growth, less Christmas

What the world has come to know as Christmas has slowly become a mere seven days of holiday for young Nigerians. While some of us might still go to church and observe some of the cultural norms of the season, the seven-day break that comes with christmas has little to do with Christmas for young Nigerians.

The new Tejuosho market. (TejuoshoShoppingCentre)
The new Tejuosho market. (TejuoshoShoppingCentre)

“When we were young, I remember my mom would take us to Tejuosho market around November to purchase Christmas clothes,” reminisces Gbenga, a Video Editor at Pulse Nigeria. “The reason was because clothes used to get expensive around late November to early December. I used to look forward to Christmas a lot, but over the past few years of my 20s, that anticipation has continued to decline.”

“I look around me and I see the same energy from a lot of Nigerians between the ages of 24-35 - especially the unmarried ones,” Gbenga continues. “Even when they are chilling or eating, they are not exactly celebrating Christmas. They are just celebrating an end to their year and blowing off steam; it’s not exactly about celebrating the birth of Jesus.

This writer agrees with Gbenga and his allusions. A lot of young Nigerians don’t even buy chicken and drinks over Christmas, it’s just another day to them - with no extra spice. Nonetheless, a lot of people in this category still enjoy the season, but in a different way.

Has it always been this way?

Demola, a Graphic Designer and Illustrator at Pulse Nigeria definitely agrees with Gbenga’s sentiments. However, he notes that Christmas celebrations have always meant different things to different people.

He reckons that for most people, Christmas has always been about celebrating the end of year, not exactly about celebrating Jesus Christ, even if you go to church.

Demola argues that most millennials and even the younger Gen Z are not exactly doing anything new; that we are just expanding the reality of a norm. If buying Christmas clothes, attending picnics and eating chicken was blowing up steam for us as children and young persons, attending parties and staying out late is the adult version.

“Jesus wasn’t even born in December, he was born around October. The only reason the celebration of his birth was moved till the end of the year is probably for economic reasons,” he enthused. “Think about it, bro. People are more likely to splurge at the end of the year. The idea is to make them think they are celebrating Christ when they are just celebrating the end of year.”

“This way, Christ wins, the church wins, the economy wins and the perception that December-January is about Jesus Christ is sustained,” Demola continues. “For a lot of people, it’s about celebrating Christ. But over time, this period of our lives has moved beyond that. As people around my age have grown older, the reality has just crept up on us subconsciously and we are just living that norm.”

During three-way conversation, Gbenga then comes back with a retort. Although he agrees with Demola, he also raises the salient point that, “Even though it's normative that we are only enjoying our lives as opposed to celebrating Christ, I also think that millennials have celebrated less and less. Some of us even take the time to sleep and relax than to drink and party.”

Demola doesn’t disagree, but he feels like every generation has always had young people who intentionally celebrate their Christmas that way.

“I think the difference in how young people choose to celebrate Christmas and how children or people with families celebrate Christmas is what I call, ‘the hustling phase,” says Demola.

‘The hustling phase’ vs. The family phase

According to Demola, this phase is characterized by the hunger for success and building a launchpad for lasting success. For most people, this phase is their 20s because the hunger, drive and energy of people around that age is unmatched. To him, this is why certain people even work during the Christmas holidays.

Demola’s theories are backed up by Auren Hoffman, the CEO of SafeGraph and former CEO of LiveRamp. On Quora he writes that, “One of the core advantages that a 20-year-old has is sheer energy and less outside responsibilities.

“A 40-year-old has a lot less energy and has many things other than work that take time (like kids, spouse, elderly parents, community service, boards, managing the money they made, and more).

“Some people work hard all their life ... but most people work their peak weekly hours at about 25. It is extremely rare for a 55-year-old to work more weekly hours then that same person did 30 years before.”

Demola continues to argue it’s always been like this for most young people between 24-35 because they work hard and have little time for any other thing. He reckons that Christmas celebrations will take a different shape for these young people once they get married and they have kids.

“At that stage, you will realize that the norm of Christmas must be celebrated because of your kids,” he buttresses. “Even if you don’t want to celebrate Christmas, you will do it for your kids because their friends are celebrating it. That’s why Christmas will never die, it will always mean different things to different people.”

Gbenga agrees with Demola by saying, “That’s a fantastic point and I think it’s why Mo Salah celebrates Christmas every year. You age and environment dictates how you move sometimes. I agree with you, Christmas will never die. It will just mean different things and different types of ‘enjoyment to different people.”

Onwa December geng

While a lot of young people celebrate Detty December and some young Nigerians celebrate Christmas at work, ‘Onwa December’ continues to wax stronger. Every year, our Igbo brethren load their vehicles with all kinds of goodies and head for the South-East to celebrate Christmas. To young Nigerians of Igbo descent, ‘Onwa December’ means that Christmas is alive.

“To be Igbo is to understand that Christmas means different things,” says Chijioke. It’s our time to celebrate Christmas in our way and we look forward to it every year.”

Here are some facts

Everybody made salient points, but the act of a few doesn’t invalidate the attitude of an entire season. However, Demola lays bare the simple perspective that Christmas has always been about enjoyment and nothing else. That enjoyment just means different things to different people.

‘If you take an extra beer ‘for the season,’ you have joined the enjoyment,” Gbena jokes in agreement.

That point is buttressed by a December 2018 analysis by Picodi. For years before then, millennials and Gen Z always felt like Christmas might be dying with us but that’s not right. Nigeria still ranked 21st in annual global Christmas spendings.

The breakdown shows that the average Nigerian home spends N24,300 on Christmas celebrations. Of that number, half is spent on gifts, food makes up 29% of that sum and Christmas outfit takes 21%.

For context, the same year, Nigeria was named the poverty capital of the world where a lot of people spend below $1-a-day. That year, $1 was NGN364 in December 2018.

PLEASE NOTE: Picodi got its exchange rates wrong, but its analysis are persuasive.

Picodi Analysis. (Picodi)
Picodi Analysis. (Picodi)
Picodi Analysis. (Picodi)
Picodi Analysis. (Picodi)
Picodi Analysis. (Picodi)
Picodi Analysis. (Picodi)

According to Opinionated on Nairaland, Picodi survey was conducted in early December 2018 among more than 13,000 people from Europe, Asia, America, Africa and Australia in countries where Christmas or its equivalent is celebrated during the winter period.

In Nigeria, 230 people of all ages, careers, tribes and ideologies took part in the survey. The same year, Cinema Exhibitors Association of Nigeria (CEAN) reported that Nigerians spent N359m in cinemas during Christmas week.

2019 saw a rise in exchange rates and 2020 brought a recession, but the numbers are not expected to fall below NGN10,000 on Christmas celebrations.

That’s still huge spending for a country in recession. Even if the spendings fall below NGN10,000, 2020 has been an exceptional year and it can't be used as a litmus test.