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The Sociology of Christmas in Nigeria: Social Solidarity

Christmas is an annual festival that is primarily celebrated to commemorate the birth of Jesus Christ. It’s duly observed on December 25th as a religious and cultural celebration among millions and billions of people around the world. Notwithstanding, Christmas of course, is a Christian holiday, that is celebrated by many around the globe as a religious holiday with religious rituals, values, and relationships. This schema for understanding what grips society together also applies to Christmas as a secular holiday. Therefore, I present a sociology of Christmas in Nigeria.

Emile Durkheim and Christmas

Christmas is a beloved holiday, and for good reasons, it’s a time for parties, delicious seasonal beverages, feasting, gifts, and for many, a time of homecoming, but underneath the surface of festivity, there’s quite a bit going on, sociologically. Sociologically, Christmas holds the social value of rituals as Classical Sociologist, Emile Durkheim tends to share more light on this. Durkheim, a functionalist Sociologists, developed a still widely used theory for explaining what holds society and social groups together through his study of religion.

Durkheim identified core aspects of religious structure and participation that sociologists today apply to society in general, including the role of rituals in bringing people together around shared practices and values; and ways that participation in rituals reaffirms shared values, and thus reaffirms and strengthens the social bonds between people (which he called social solidarity); and the experience of “collective effervescence,” in which people tend to share in feelings of excitement and are unified in the experience of participating in rituals together.

As a result of these things, people feel connected to others, a sense of belonging, and the social order as it exists makes sense to them. They feel stable, comfortable, and secure.

Christmas and Social Solidarity

Furthermore,the secular rituals of Christmas are very pertinent in the Sociological discuss of social solidarity. Christmas of course is a Christian holiday, celebrated by many as a religious holiday with religious rituals, values, and relationships.

In the rituals involved in Christmas is decorating, often together with loved ones; using seasonal and holiday-themed items; cooking meals and baking sweets; throwing and attending parties; exchanging gifts; wrapping and opening those gifts; bringing children to visit Santa Claus; watching for Santa on Christmas eve; leaving milk and cookies for him; singing Christmas carols; hanging stockings; watching Christmas movies and listening to Christmas music; performing in Christmas pageants; and attending church services.

However, what Christmas does is to bring us together with the people we hold dear and give us an opportunity to reaffirm our shared values. When we participate in rituals together, we call to the surface of interactions the values that underlie them. In this case, we can identify the values that underlie these rituals as the importance of family and friendship, togetherness, kindness, and generosity.

These are the values that uphold the most beloved Christmas movies and songs, too. By coming together around these values through participation in Christmas rituals, we reaffirm and strengthen our social ties with those involved.

Social Function of Christmas

Also, Christmas  performs a deeply important social function for us. It makes us feel like we are part of a collective, whether that be with kin or chosen family. And, as social beings, this is one of our fundamental human needs. Doing this is what makes it such a special time of year, and why, for some, if we don’t achieve this at Christmastime, it can be a real downer. It’s easy to get wrapped up in the hunt for gifts, the desire for new goods, and the promise of letting loose and partying during this time of year.

Furthermore, in 1925, Anthropologist Marcel Mauss theorized that gift giving is actually all about the giver: Mauss identified three obligations associated with gift exchange: giving, which he equates with the first step in building a social relationship; receiving, which signifies acceptance of the social relationship; and reciprocating, which demonstrates the recipient’s integrity. If gifts are refused or unreciprocated, relationships can be threatened.  Decoration and gifts giving are some  of the prerequisites of Christmas and which strengthens relationship bounds and solidarity amongst people all over the world.

Sociology of Christmas in Nigeria

Coming down to Christmas celebration in Nigeria, it’s pertinent to  know that Nigeria is a  rich country, given her endowed natural resources. Nigeria is a large nation, populated by different multi-ethnic and cultural groups. It has an estimated population of 163,000,3542 people. It’s now generally estimated that there are some 400 ethnic groups of varying sizes that are found in Nigeria.

However, there are definitely nothing less than 400 languages in this diverse country which makes people wonder how the British were able to determine that a united country was possible in such diversity. And in this diversity Nigerians celebrate Christmas happily and peacefully.

Sociology of Christmas in Nigeria: How we Celebrate

Christmas in Nigeria is a family event, a time when lots of family members come together to celebrate and have fun. Most families, that live in cities, travel to the villages where their grandparents and older relatives live. The end of the year is usually a great time for most Nigerians and this is not just because it signals a time of relief for most people aching for a vacation or rest from all the hard work and back breaking activities of the previous months, it is also because December time is Christmas time!

Christmas Day in Nigeria is a public holiday that is marked by the emptying of towns and cities with excitement in the air. People travel to their respective state or origin to celebrate with their loved ones, it is often a time for family reunion, a time to re-strategize and focus, it is a time to seek the face of God and make new year resolutions and to also bless those less fortunate and general acts of random kindness.

As the towns and cities empty, people jam the West African markets to buy and transport live chickens, goats and cows that will be needed for the Christmas meals. On Christmas Eve, many families will throw Christmas parties that will last all night long, traditional meals are prepared according to the traditions of each region. Instead of having sweets and cakes, Nigerians as a whole tend to prepare various dishes.

Sociology of Christmas in Nigeria: Food Customs

In the south, a dish called Jollof rice or fried rice is served with stews of various meats along with fried plantains; in the North, Rice and Stew as well as Tuwon Shinkafa, a rice pudding served with various meat stews, is preferred. An alternative in both regions (but more favoured in the south) is a pepper soup with fish, goat, or beef.

Served with this food are an array of mainly alcoholic drinks such as the traditional palm wine or various local and imported beers and wines; children and women may be served locally-made soft-drink equivalents instead. Many different languages are spoken in Nigeria and with different ways of wishing one another a happy Christmas. In Hausa Happy/Merry Christmas is ‘barka dà Kirsìmatì’; in Yoruba it’s ‘E ku odun, e ku iye’dun’; in Fulani it’s ‘Jabbama be salla Kirismati’; in Igbo (Ibo) ‘E keresimesi Oma’; in Ibibio ‘Idara ukapade isua’ and in Edo it’s ‘Iselogbe’.

Sociology of Christmas in Nigeria: Religion

However, on Christmas morning, Christians go to church to give thanks to God. Homes, restaurants, workplaces and streets are often decorated. Most homes will have an artificial Christmas tree. Children love to play with firecrackers at Christmas. The church choir may visit the church congregation in their homes to sing Christmas carols to them. Christmas cards are sent to friends and family members. Presents are exchanged amongst family members and some families may take their children dressed in new outfits to see Santa Claus, usually referred to as “Father Christmas” in Nigeria.

In the villages people would be greeted by the numerous masquerade groups formulated by the younger people who gently display their dance moves in exchange for foreign currencies. This dance groups make the Christmas experience soothing and comforting. The young girls also have their dance groups, though without a masquerade but with palm frond tied to their left feet as a sign of bravery in some culture. These young girl also make money by displaying their well thought out dance steps.

Christmas Time in Nigeria

Christmas in Nigeria often involves money and the flow of gifts from the more fortunate to the less fortunate. It’s a time for celebration and reconnection, the experience is always an unforgettable one. Visitors are welcomed and there is no house that is left without the aroma of chicken stew.

Nigerians are kinder to each other during the holidays: Families and organizations take time out during the holidays to share good cheer, give out gifts to each other and the less privileged. Some people also organize causes and donation points for others. The most lit parties happen at Christmas time. From carols to street carnivals to concerts; people are bound to have the utmost time of their lives during the holidays.

Following the festivities on Christmas Eve, Nigerians head to church to give thanks to God and presents are exchanged among family members. Some families take their children dressed in their new outfits to see Santa Claus, also known as Father Christmas. In Nigeria, Father Christmas doesn’t sneak into people’s home.

In conclusion, the Sociology of Christmas is wonderful and unique as  it’s important to remember that Christmas will be most enjoyable when it is designed to foster togetherness and the sharing and reaffirming of the positive values that bind people together.

Discourse Analysis of Christmas and Santa Claus

Seasonal Altruism Defined: Case of “The Christmas Spirit”

Hassan Idris

Hassan Idris is from Kogi state Nigeria, a writer, poet, essayist, a graduate of Sociology and Anthropology from Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria-Nigeria. He's a member of the Creative writer's Club, A. B. U Zaria, Creative Club Gombe State University, Northern writer's Summit, Risingyouth, and Hill-Top Creative Arts Foundation. His works have appeared in a variety of press outlets. He's a guest writer/Contributor for Applied Worldwide (USA), Chairman, Benue Hill-Top Creative Arts Foundation branch and an editor with Wadata TV, Nigeria. He received an Award from the Department of Sociology and Anthropology, Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria-Nigeria as the best researcher in 2017, and he's the third place winner of Applied Worldwide's student essay competition in the US in 2020 and 2021. He was hosted by the Legislator representing Makurdi North, Hon. Thomas Kwagh-Kudi Terfa in his office, Benue State House Of Assembly in 2020 for making his constituency proud. He's a reviewer and his review of the book, Behind The Moon  was featured in He happens to be the first reviewer of the book, Pruning The Youngstar written by a Kenyan Author. He's the author of Armageddon of Love (poetry collection) featured in The Abusites,, Opera news, etc.