My earliest memory of Christmas at age 8 involved a 7 to 8 hour trip from Port-Harcourt to my mum’s village in Owo called Eporo-Ekiti. My maternal grandparents lived there and it was the tradition in her family for all the children to celebrate Christmas with them. I remember Eporo as a dusty small village with no electricity because their transformer was faulty for some years and the Ondo State Government had refused to fix it at the time.
My grandpa was well known in the village because he was an opinion-leader/influencer of some sort. ‘O ni foto’ (The Photographer) he was popular called. It was said that he inspired many people to become photographers in the village and therefore went ahead to train most of the young boys in the village before he traded his camera for a motor dealership in the 80’s.
Christmas in Eporo meant waking up from bed on Christmas day with a family devotion led by my energetic grandmother at 6 am. Trying to get back to bed afterwards was usually hindered by the countless number of women in the village who would send their children to ‘o ni foto’s house bearing trays containing some of the local delicacies; from hot akara fried in palm oil, to hot wraps of pounded yam and Egusi soup garnished with all sorts of stock fish, snail and bush meat. My favourite was the white rice with the palm oil stew and boiled eggs. This was a special delicacy of my grandma’s bosom friend Iya Ijebu (our mother from Ijebu) as she was popular called. Eating these delicacies even before brushing our teeth was to us what unwrapping presents on Christmas morning is to families in the West.
Christmas in Eporo meant new clothes to be worn to church and all eyes were usually on us (children and grandchildren of ‘o ni foto’). The children and grandchildren always occupied the first rows of seats, as it seemed to be the common practice at the local Anglican Church to reserve these seats for us regardless of the time we made it to the Christmas service. Of course grandma and grandpa were usually in church earlier than us and they would send their driver to come fetch the children and grandchildren when we eventually got ready. Oh how I admired the robes worn by the choir and the way it swung from side to side as the choristers danced to the beat of their hymns and choruses.
Christmas in Eporo meant coming back from church to eat Jollof Rice and chicken or beef. Back at my grandparents’ house, I was allowed to wear my Christmas dress till night fall. Also, all other children in the village wore their new Christmas dress too and would often stop by the house. In a way, we were all showing-off whose dress was finer or prettier. This was the only thing that made sense for me those days anyways.
Christmas in Eporo meant having distant uncles, aunties, cousins and friends of the family or people my mum and aunties grew up with flocking to the house to catch up on or swap stories on all that had happened during the year. Stories about who died and how the person died; who got married or who was chased out of her husband’s house after being caught in another man’s bed; who left the village to go into the city or who has returned from his or her sojourn in the city trailed the lips of most of my mum and aunties’ friends as they sipped their glass of palm wine tapped in the early hours of Christmas morning usually before the cocks began to crow.
There were also the stories of youth corpers and their exploits in the town during the course of the year. By exploits, I am referring to male corpers being in the middle of the local village gossip involving ‘Corper A’ impregnating a girl in the village or girls fighting over the love and affection of ‘Corper B’. We get to hear these stories because most of the corpers often lived in the rented quarters of my grandparent’s house. Also, everyone knew about everyone else’s business in a village like Eporo as that was the only source of entertainment and topic for social interaction at the time.
Following the death of grandma, Christmas in Eporo never looked like what it was as a child. Globalisation and the relocation of half of grandpa and grandma’s descendants meant more children and grandchildren stopped going to Eporo for Christmas. Nowadays, Christmas is celebrated in Owo (the urban version of Eporo) and this seems to cast a shadow of nostalgia on us all especially the grandchildren. Celebrating Christmas in the urban version of Eporo just doesn’t cut it because we are certain that hot local delicacies will be absent from our Christmas morning rituals while the evenings will also be devoid of juicy village gossip.
The only part of the Christmas trip I now look forward to is the road trip to Owo and the warm embrace of my grandfather because even though he no longer lives in Eporo, I will forever be grateful for the beautiful childhood memories etched in my brain from the many Christmases celebrated with him and my grandma of blessed memories. This tiny merry village will always be missed and remembered whenever Christmas is celebrated in the family of ‘o ni foto’.
Have a Merry Christmas!