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The Commercialization of Christmas by Nigerian Churches

Every Christmas season, tens of thousands of Igbos from Nigeria's southeast return home from every part of the country and beyond. I am one of them. I have travelled to my village every year, as far back as I can remember. And in some ways, nothing has changed since then. 

The season is often filled with laughter, and merriment and families try to bond and put on their best behaviour; not that this always works.

As it is customary with the Igbo tribe of Nigerian descent, I travel every Christmas to my hometown without fail. The season is often filled with laughter and merriment and it is considered the best family bonding period, however, the most important day of the season, 25 December, is often the most unpleasant day during the celebration and this is because of how it has been commercialized.

Regardless of the day of the week, the 25th day of December is a day of worship and thanksgiving for Christians who usually go to church to commemorate the day. The excitement of the celebration is often drowned by the numerous calls to offer monetary donations into the church coffers.

Disguised under different names, Christmas day has for years been a very profitable day for churches, especially those in the Eastern parts of Nigeria, as the pastoral figure presiding over the day’s activities continuously beckons on its members and visiting worshippers to drop money for different activities including church projects and Christmas cutting of the cake. Offering and tithes are usually not included in these calls.

Centuries ago, Christmas was celebrated through giving to feed the hungry and clothe the poor. Although these practices are not as common as they used to be, giving is still preached every Christmas in most churches.

For the past five years in the Anglican church where I worship, the sermon has always been on the importance of giving. Each year, the calls for cash gifts begin after the sermon. Given that it is expected of the worshippers to give, people feel guilty when they don’t.

Many times, these calls are made up to eight times to the frustration of visiting worshippers. To escape emptying their pockets on one call in one service, some worshippers devised a plan of taking the lowest denomination to church; that way they can give up to the eight without it draining them. Meaning that the worshipper who initially planned to drop N1000 ($1.75) during the service, exchanges the single note for ten N100 notes to accommodate the calls to give.

For churches, the idea behind commercializing 25 December is due to the influx of people on this day. It almost feels like the church is taxing those living in the diaspora that returns to worship during the yuletide.

The church is not the only organization guilty of making a business out of Christmas; Shopping outlets also fall into this category. There is a huge market centred around the yuletide season to make people spend more than they normally would.

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