CELEBRATING CHRISTMAS IN NIGERIA AMID COVID-19
By Ukamaka Okafor, Abuja
Christmas is an annual festival celebrated by Christians all over the world to commemorate the birth of Jesus Christ, the Savior of mankind.
The festival, observed on the 25th of December every year is remarkable in the Christendom as a religious and cultural ceremony among billions of people all over the world and usually with great pomp and pageantry.
The coming of Jesus in human history celebrated at Christmas had been prophesied centuries earlier by the prophets. Prophet Isaiah had foretold that ‘a virgin will conceive and bear a son, and she will call Him Immanuel’ (Isa 7:14), a name which means ‘God with us’ (Matt 1:23).
The significance of Christmas is that Jesus Christ was not born in a grand style or in a palace, but in a simple lowly place, a corner of a stable, a manger where animals are kept. He was born to humble and poor parents, who had nothing to boast of, except their own spotless character and holiness.
The birth of Christ aptly tells us that spiritual awakening comes to the seeker, who is perfectly humble, meek and poor in spirit and that quality of true humility is one of the indispensable fundamentals of a Christian life.
For the celebration of Christmas, great preparations are made. All Christians, rich or poor join in the celebration of the birth of the savior of the world. Celebrating Christmas involves travels, hosting of parties, visit to family, friends and loved ones.
But this year’s Christmas is a departure from the past, a far cry from the usual. The Covid-19 pandemic has completely altered the way Christmas is celebrated, at least for this year. As the global fight against the deadly disease continues, all activities, including religious, are affected and gatherings of faithful in large numbers are restricted.
Owing to the second wave of the Corona virus pandemic, this year’s Christmas is being celebrated in an unusual manner not only in Nigeria but in most countries across the globe.
As part of efforts to curb the spread of the disease, the Nigerian government has given an advisory about religious gatherings across the country. Government has limited all gatherings linked to religious events to less than 50 per cent of the capacity of the facility of use, where physical distancing and use of face mask should be strictly enforced.
Nigerians are also cautioned against unnecessary travels and avoidance of crowd, especially in the second wave of the pandemic as the cases increased steadily over the past two months, underscoring the need for reinforced public health measures to avert a spread of the infection.
Since coming into close contact with other people is the main way in which Covid-19 spreads, the usual form of congregating in churches and parties with family and friends are unsafe during this Christmas.
Churches can take advantage of technology to conduct Christmas services virtually while worshipper participate in the live streaming from the comfort of their homes. This was how services were conducted for many months earlier this year during the total lockdown in the country. The last Easter was celebrated virtually worldwide. This could be repeated this Christmas.
But in the event that the churches choose to open for Christmas, services must be as brief as possible with all protocols of social distancing, washing of hands, use of hand sanitizers and wearing of face masks strictly adhered to. This is because the longer many people from different households stay in close enclosed spaces, the higher the likelihood of passing on any infection.
It is also important to state that travels from one town or village to another to celebrate Christmas should be avoided as much as possible, especially to areas with records of high Covid-19 infections. Lagos State, the Federal Capital Territory, Kaduna, Plateau, Oyo, Rivers, Edo, Ogun and Kano States, in that order, have the highest number of confirmed cases in Nigeria.
Visits to friends and families to eat, drink and celebrate Christmas should be avoided for now or minimized as much as possible. Stay safely at home and celebrate with your family this year.
In shopping for Christmas, avoid crowded malls and markets. If you must go shopping, remember to wear your face masks and maintain physical distancing. Better still, you can shop online.
These are trying times. But remember that even though this Christmas is different and difficult for many, we can take comfort in the fact that the sacrifices we make now will protect us and our loved ones, our communities and our country. The goal is to make sure that everyone is alive to celebrate Christmas in-person next year and beyond.
The fight against Covid-19 Pandemic is an all front fight, involving scientific and spiritual angles and the fight will be won with prayers and commitment of all Nigerians of all faith especially with the Christmas celebrations this year.