Remembering my Childhood Memories of the Essence of Christmas

Going back to my roots!

I have lived most of my life here in Lagos, Nigeria. But I was born in Owerre Olubor, a peaceful town in the present day Ika N. E. Local Government of Delta State.

There were many wonderful memories I had growing up in that predominantly agrarian village where a sizeable portion of the population, with a few exceptions,  professed to be Christians.

One of such memories is that of various celebrations which took place in the community on an annual basis. Apart from the universal Easter, Christmas and New Year celebrations, there were other big festivals that were equally engaged in.

The New Yam Festival, Iwaji, is celebrated in the third quarter of the year to mark the beginning of farm harvests and then followed closely with a festival of dance and music, known as Ogbanigbe. Both festivals which attracted visitors from far and near, were ‘traditional’ in nature and were celebrated by almost everyone in that serene community.

Ogbanigbe Festival
Crowd celebrating the Ogbanigbe Festival in 2010. Photo credits – CF Monye

However, many ‘serious’ Christians in the land, especially those from amongst the Pentecostal circle, did not join in the Ogbanigbe celebration for fear of being ‘contaminated’. Their sentiment for not participating in the festivals was that such ceremonies were rooted in idolatory and ancestral worship, giving glory to demons and not to the true God.

And they were right – because of some reasons outside the scope of this post.

In those early days, my siblings and I saw ourselves as Christians, having been following our mum to church. But our personal convinctions were not very deep. So we were passive participants in the festivals until we  became fully detached from their celebrations.

Personally, I can still recall previously having some pleasures in the festivals during my pre-teen years, especially as far as the family feasting aspect of the celebrations was concerned. This was due mainly to the influence of my father in the home, making provisions for special meals to be prepared during those festivals.

Unlike my mother, my father – although a very morally upright man – wasn’t a christian and so he had a longstanding belief in those festivals. But he never forced any member of the family to participate in them.

By virtue of his status as as an ‘elder’ in the village at the time, he was given special recognition which required that the festival’s dance-parties visited our house to pay the traditional ceremonial homage to him during their main street ogbanigbe carnivals.

The beginning of Change

As time went on, I gave up whatever pleasures I might have had in those festivals. This happened after I became born again in my early teens and began to be taught the living word of God which empowered me spiritually and also enabled me to make decisions that were in line with my new found love and passion for the only true God, the Father of the Lord Jesus Christ.

While it is true that becoming born again helped in realigning my values and focus with respect to the annual festivities of those years, it was not an over-night change. I gradually refrained from having anything whatsoever to do with the ceremonies. The rest is history!

Therefore come out from among them and be separate, says the Lord. Touch no unclean thing, and I will receive you. 2 Corrinthians 6:17.

Cerebration by all

Christmas, though popularly known as a Christian festival, was celebrated by everyone around me, irrespective of religious background. But in those days the real essence of it was lost to me and, I believe, to majority of the celebrants as well.

Growing up then, it didn’t matter if one was a Christian or not, Christmas was a feast for all to celebrate; everyone one around, whether they went to church or not, or were involved in the so-called traditional worship, all of us participated in Christmas celebrations.

The only exception I can remember was a girl two years my senior in secondary school, a member of the Jehovah Witnesses. Including Christmas, she never joined in the celebration of ‘anything’ at all. She even refused to join in reciting the national anthem and other songs we sang on the assembly ground every morning.


Before the essense of Christmas hit me

Christmas is the commemoration of the birth of Jesus. But while we all celebrated it, most often than not, not all of us remembered or even cared about the real purpose of it.

We all focused on the fanfare rather than on why Jesus was born in the first place. Sadly that mistake is still observable in many places around the world today.

In my pre-teen years, Christmas time for me meant that we were approaching the time for the longest school holiday in the academic year. That meant I would have more time to play street football with my friends from school and around the neighbourhoods.

Christmas also meant that I  was going to get a new set of clothes, a new pair of shoes, a wrist watch and a pair of sunglasses to match. It was particularly fun wearing those pair of eye-classes; once you had them on, the grounds appeared to be shifting and un-levelled. Still we managed to move around in them and then returned home to mama, safely.

At Christmas, relations who lived in cities would return home for family reunions, a once in a year ritual. We also visited relations and family friends around town, especially on the boxing day. We would be lavishly served with rice and chicken and in some cases soft drinks.

And once we stood up to go back home, we would be given some money which the giver would often say, “This is for all of you.” That announcement was necessary to avoid a situation were the direct recipient would think the money was meant for only him or her.

Reports were rampant then of children or teenagers fighting over such money… But fortunately for me, my ‘visitation’ groups were always cooperative, so at the end of day, we always amicably shared all the accumulated moneys from such visits.

You can say Christmas was another way of getting money from people you knew, as it appeared everyone was more generous during that time.

Rice and stew very plenty

Back at home from Christmas day service in church, there would be plenty of food to eat. Some people would prefer specially made local delicacies on this day. But the children (including yours truly) would relish the specially made Christmas rice and stew.

Rice and stew
Photo Credits: Seekers Match

Our parents made sure they ‘killed’ chicken to serve it along. If anybody’s mum failed to prepare rice and chicken in special stew, especially on the boxing day, he or she would have the feeling that the Christmas for that year was not fantastic.

So basically, our Christmas then like in many other places was full of eating and drinking (mostly soft drinks, no alcohol) visiting families in new outfits and other forms of celebrations. Not many people remembered or even knew the real essence of Christmas.

Understanding the real essense of Christmas

After I got born again, I began to understand the true meaning of Christmas. A Saviour was born to save the world. The slogan Christ is the reason for the season became a living reality.

I still wore new clothes at Christmas. I still ate specially prepared meals. But those were no longer my main focus: Christ was and still is.

We became challenged to share the love of God in more active ways – reaching out to people with the true meaning of Christmas.

Yes, we went out for evangelism, sharing the love of Christ in any way we deemed fit. What better way to celebrate Christmas than to tell people the Saviour was born to save them from their sins?

As we celebrate ‘Christmas’, let us remember the ‘Christ’ in it!

What’s your own childhood Christmas story?

©Copyright 2017 | Victor Uyanwanne

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TRIBUTE TO MY MOTHER

TRIBUTE TO MY MOTHER
By Victor Uyanwanne

First and foremost, let me be frank with you. As the title clearly portrays, this article is not about me. But I had to begin with a short narrative of a personal history to be able to put things in the best perspective. Kindly indulge me as you read on.

My mother, Victoria Ofunim Uyanwanne Bakwunye (nee Okwuedei) went home recently to be with the Lord at a very ripe age estimated at 90 years. Needless to say, it was our greatest honour and privilege as her children, grandchildren and great grandchildren to gather from far and wide in June 2015 in our home state of Delta, Nigeria, to give her a very befitting burial. Before her death on April 18, 2015, she had been all my siblings and I had since our father passed on twenty one years ago at an equally ripe age.

Despite her being advanced in age, I am glad that she didn’t die until her wish came through.

As at the time our father, Uyanwanne Bakwunye, passed away in the morning of June 13, 1994, I had hardly fully understood the meaning of death because I was probably too naive – an innocent teenager I was – to have fully comprehended the full import of death as it were. It was shortly later in life after his death that I came to the full realisation that I would never see my dad again in this life. Poor me!

I missed my dad (especially his love and friendship) since his passing on. But I am not complaining; all has been well with me and I have many reasons to be very grateful to God for everything. Thanks to my recently departed mum and my older siblings who ensured that I was well taken care of from then on.

I was the baby of the house. My parents gave birth to me when they were already advanced in age. This realisation often reminds me of something similar from the story of Joseph in the Bible. It was recorded of him in the book of Genesis (37:3) that “Joseph was a son born to [Jacob] in his old age.” I guess I could easily identify with that depiction! (Incidentally, for many reasons other than this, Joseph has become my favourite Bible character).

As a child, I wasn’t so sure of the number of years between my parents’ ages but one thing was very clear to me then: my dad was much older than my mum. I grew up knowing both of them as “Baba” and “Mama”. In those days in the Nigerian environment (a small town known as Owerre Olubor in the present Delta State) where I was born, (and I believe in many other parts of the world), that was how children called their parents – especially if they were advanced in age as mine were.

We didn’t live in any remarkable luxury, but we were happy and contented

Being the fifth and the last child of my parents, I would say things were relatively easier for me than it was for my older siblings. While growing up, I was never under any kind of pressure. I was much loved by my parents and my siblings and I knew it. They protected me and shielded me from any ‘bad weather’.

They met my needs to the best of their abilities. They shouldered most my responsibilities, leaving me with lots of time to play and to read my books. (To be sincere, I played more that I read then. Smiles! Let’s leave that topic for another day!)

Suffice to say, to a very large extent, I could aver that I was the object of the love of my parents as well as those of my siblings who were much older than I was. We didn’t live in any remarkable luxury, but we were happy and contented. I couldn’t have asked for a better family than mine, as I was convinced that the best family to be born into was this one I was born into.

I hardly wanted people to know I was the last child of my parents. But somehow, some people were always able to figure that out.

My family members had some pet names for me. For instance, my mother called me “Ugochukwu” (meaning God’s honour), while my eldest sister Caroline Onumuzor fondly called me ‘Lastborn.” That’s what she and some other people from my home town still call me till date!

To be honest, I didn’t mind them calling me “Lastborn” anywhere, provided no ‘outsider’ was around to hear them call me that. Smiles! To me the reason was simple: most people thought that all “lastborns” were spoilt brats. And that’s not a compliment! So as much as possible, I hardly wanted people to know I was the last child of my parents. But somehow, some people were always able to figure that out.

Back then, most people knew me as “Okem” for short (which simply means “my bequest” or “my gift”; the name in its fullest form being “Okechukwuyem”, meaning “God’s bequest/gift to me”). I later became known as “Victor” before the age of six years when my mum took me for infant baptism in her church, St. Barnabas Anglican Owerre Olubor, Delta State. She remained a member of this church until her glorious exit from the earth earlier this year.

Thanks to mama, she was the light we saw that pointed us the way to Christ!

About sixteen years after I underwent the said infant baptism, at which time I had become an undergraduate, I had to undergo what in Pentecostal cycles is referred to as “baptism by immersion” ; that was after I accepted Jesus Christ as my Lord and personal Saviour. This didn’t require a change of name, but a change of heart. Thanks to mama, she was the light we saw that pointed us the way to Christ!

Now fast forward to the present year, 2015. Baba and mama’s lastborn has become a man. I am now a full grown adult, married to a beautiful lady from heaven and blessed with two wonderful boys (Best and Newman) as children.

Needless to say, I have not only increased in stature, I have also increased in wisdom in all ramifications. So when in the morning of Saturday April 18, 2015 I was informed via a telephone conversation with my eldest sister, Onumuzor, that my mum had “just passed on to be with the Lord”, I was already well abreast with the real meaning of death, the death of an aged parent.

To be honest, I had always been scared of losing my mum.

I heaved a deep sigh…. Mama is gone? Instantly, emotions welled up like a flowing river from within me and my eyes were filled with tears as I managed to end the telephone call. I found myself sobbing my eyes wet, with a nagging thought in my heart like “the day I feared most had finally come: mama was no more.”

To be honest, I had always been scared of losing my mum. I mean I knew she would die someday, but I didn’t expect it would be that very day. I also knew mama was well advanced in age, yet I had the secret wish that she would stay on earth a bit longer. After all, despite her old age, she was still relatively strong in her body and she always had the love and care she needed from her children and grandchildren. Her health had also remained relatively stable until she suddenly had a relapse two weeks before her demise.

Mama came, she saw and she conquered! That’s the feeling all of us her children share.

There I was standing in my sitting room on that fateful Saturday morning when the news of her death filtered into my ear drums. At first, I had tried not to cry aloud but I couldn’t. I then walked from the sitting room towards the kitchen to tell my wife, Jennifer, about the sad news I just received. I sobbed for a while in her warm embrace as she tried to console me. I then regained my composure, but not fast enough as not to allow my first son notice that everything didn’t seem well with his daddy.

“Mummy, why is daddy crying,” he asked, “did he fall down?”

“No Best, he didn’t fall down. Don’t worry, he will be fine,” my wife tried to explain to the boy.

I wouldn’t blame him; he had never seen me cry since he was born three years ago. Besides, he is only a child and would not even understand the full meaning of death. How would we have explained to him that his paternal grandmother was no more? The last time mama saw him, she was very fond of him; they bonded well together.

I was still a bachelor when mama told me she would be ready to go ‘home’ only when I had given her a grandchild.

I remember then, Mama heart’s was really glad that she had seen a grandson from her last born child – Me! Some years back, I was still a bachelor when mama told me she would be ready to go ‘home’ only when I had given her a grandchild. Over the years that followed, I never forgot those words!

Despite her being advanced in age, I am glad that she didn’t die until her wish came through. In fact, I would say she had more than her wish because she had two grandchildren through my wife and I – in addition to several others from my older siblings and their respective spouses. In all respect, she died a happy woman, mother, grandmother and great grandmother. Fulfilled!

I wept on hearing the news of mum’s passing. But moments later that same day, the negative emotions I felt about her passing began to wane and positive stimulations about her life and times began to well up from my spirit.

Mama came, she saw and she conquered! That’s the feeling all of us her children share. I for one, her exit made me cry. But at the same time, I felt relieved when I began to put things in the proper perspective. I am convinced that she had gone to be with the Lord, because till her death, she maintained an unwavering faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, as her Lord and Saviour. It was this realisation that gave my siblings and I the greatest consolation of heart we needed.

I know I would not be able to describe all things my mother represented, but I know I wrote from my heart.

As I very well recall, naturally, I wept on hearing the news of mum’s passing. But moments later that same day, the negative emotions I felt about her passing began to wane and positive stimulations about her life and times began to well up from my spirit. Suddenly, I thought about her strict love, fearlessness, self-discipline, self-control, contentment, patience, courage, independent mindedness, industry, smiling face, generosity, strong faith in God, fidelity, sense of loyalty and many other sublime qualities too numerous to mention in this space.

In response to the positive thoughts overflow, I pulled by tablet device and began to type as fast as I could and as the words flowed. In the end I came up with these verses of poetic expression below that informed that title of this discourse. I know I would not be able to describe all things my mother represented, but I know I wrote from my heart.

TRIBUTE TO MY MOTHER

Mama, today you are gone from our midst
But you are not gone from our hearts
Cos we will always remember you
Though you are no more here
Your legacies remain alive with us
You were a mother like no other
You were unique in your own ways.

You lived your life the best way you could

You lived your life the best way you could
You ran the race God set before you
Now you have gone the way of all men
We are sad that you are gone,
But we will always celebrate you.

You found the gospel light at a tender age
And you followed it till you breathe your last
You did not only find the way of Christ
You pointed it out for us your children to follow
You told us you knew no other way, but the way of Christ.

You were a mother like no other

You told us to follow Jesus Christ
Till our days on earth are gone
Now that you are no more here
God will help us to follow through
You taught us how to give the tithe to God
Since the time we were kids
Now that we are grown men and women
We have not forgotten this lesson of yours.

You were a mother like no other
You proved that love and discipline can go together
You never spared the rod to spoil the child
You never feared any man, except God
You showed courage even in danger
You stood for what you believed in
Even when no one else stood with you

You are a shining example of faithfulness, loyalty and discipline

You never went back on your words
You always did what you promised
Your face always carried a cheerful smile
That radiated to those around you
The daughters of men testify of your generosity
Your love was strict, but it was also true
We are glad we had the chance to know this.

You are a shining example of faithfulness, loyalty and discipline
You stayed faithful to God until your last breath
You were loyal to our father even in death
And you disciplined us in love unto maturity
You may be gone from our eyes
But you will never be gone from our hearts.
Adieu Mama, a woman of faith and focus.

 

Copyright| Victor Uyanwanne