If I could reverse a trend, it will be the grandeur of self-indulgence during the festive periods of Christmas and the New Year. It may come as a surprise that one would wish to reverse a trend that is as old as the introduction of Christianity to Africa, a trend that has seamlessly become intertwined with the cultural norms of the average Nigerian, even those from non-Christian backgrounds.
The yuletide season each year witnesses a mass exodus of people to their hometowns in a manner reminiscent of that of the biblical Joseph and his family. This has been a repeated cycle – an endless loop. For many, the Christmas season remains the only time they go to their villages to visit extended family members. It is also a time of reunions; most extended families who are scattered around the country, with a smattering all over the world, consider this time as one to come home and strengthen the bonds of family.
So why will someone desire to reverse a trend that is a large contributor to happiness, at least on the surface?
Let’s use the recent past as a case study. In an article published in The Guardian on December 3, 2017, the writer dwelt on what he called the atmosphere “of frustration, anxiety, complaints, indifference, lamentation and despondency among the Christian faithful”. These negative feelings originated from a common source: an economy struggling with the aftermaths of a recession.
As a people, we have come to accept the explainable phenomena of skyrocketing prices each Christmas season. However, 2017 will go down as the worst in record in terms of aggravated costs and expenditure. In a time when the nation was crippled with fuel scarcity and its concomitant high price, it is understandable that the cost of transportation will increase exponentially.
It wasn’t a surprise that motorists charged as high as N15,000 from Abuja to the South East. Travelling with one’s vehicle didn’t make it cheaper; in fact, the opposite was the case for those who travelled with their cars. They had to find petroleum products and pay over the odds for it.
Those who are left the worse for this financial splurge are parents with school age children. It becomes worse if you live in a city like Abuja where the public schools are not worth the lands they are built upon. As a teacher, I’ve seen several parents borrow to pay their children’s fees in January. Most school managements are quite considerate in allowing the pupils to continue receiving lessons until close to the end of the term. The strain of paying the school fees can be lessened if parents can buck the trend of going home to the village each Christmas season. A parent once confided in me about the secret to her ability to promptly pay her children’s fees in January. She pays the fees in December before the annual splurge. That way, she can only spend what is left after paying her children’s fees. Another parent pays annually at the beginning of each academic session just to ensure that he doesn’t get caught up in the Christmas fervour.
But beyond parents who pay fees in January, the financial shortfall that befalls Nigerians every January is an indication of a faulty value system. It defies logic that one will struggle the entire year to build up a good capital base only to fritter it all away in the name of Christmas celebrations. The level of hardship experienced by Nigerians in the first quarter of each year is well documented. Beyond school fees, there are bills to pay, businesses to run, and investments to make. These are all sacrificed for a 2-week binge in December.
The Nigerian economy will be better served if the trend of saving up for Christmas can be halted, or even reversed. The biting and crippling economic hardships experienced in the opening months of each year can be reduced by making smart choices.
Jahnedu Ibekwelu writes from the FCT