Sunday, December 9, 2012

Christmas in Ogbomosho Part 2

By: Peter Gilliland

Aahhh! Christmas in Ogbomosho. To this day, I am convinced that THAT is where REAL CHRISTMAS happened, especially during the 1950s and early '60s.

Christmas there was not just a day, but a season. The best season.

We lived on a very large mission station, and celebrations were a Big Deal. There were parties; a station party, at the Seminary, or sometimes at the guest house. And it was wonderful.

And there was the Christmas Pageant. One year, my sister, Diana, was Joseph, because she was the biggest kid. Linda Goldie was Mary. I think Pat & Jim and Jonathon were the Wise Guys. John and Bill Carey and I were shepherds.

Then later, John and BC and I aged into Wise Guys. We sang "We Three Kings," and my verse was "Born a King on Bethlehem's plain, gold I bring...."

One year we did something like "The Littlest Shepherd," and Kenny was Him.

For weeks ahead of time we had rehearsals. Aunt Jane was usually the one tasked with making us into thespians. And it was wonderful.

Sometime in November we made a pilgrimage to Lagos to buy presents. We stayed at "the Hostel" and shopped at Kingsway and UTC and Chelarams and Leventis. Kingsway had a black Father Christmas, and I had my picture made sitting on his knee. In the afternoons we would go to Victoria Beach for a couple of hours, and I was delighted and terrified (and sometimes almost drowned) by the tremendous breakers. Then back at the Hostel there would be a quarter inch of sand in the bathtub after my bath. And it was wonderful.

My mother always hosted a carol sing at our house. Most of the station crowded in to sing Christmas carols, while my father and a few other non-singing men retreated to the kitchen to fry up donuts. And we always sang "The Twelve Days of Christmas." And it was wonderful.

There was lots of good food; cakes, cookies and pies in quantities not seen through the rest of the year. And there was Mrs. Jester's fruitcake. And it was wonderful.

There was excitement in the air, a marvelous anticipation, and parents hid things from children, and children were forbidden to enter certain rooms. And it was wonderful! 

The days were hot and dry and the nights were cool and you could imagine winter. It seemed that Christmas would never actually arrive because time passed so slowly. And it was wonderful.

And the Christmas decorations came out. For years, we had a casuarina tree – or branch – for a Christmas tree. Daddy strung the lights, and Mother and Diana attached the decorations, and I was "shooed" away from the tree because I was not trusted to place ornaments properly.

The tree lights were the old fat-bulb kind. If one bulb was bad, the whole string hung in darkness while Daddy changed one bulb after another to find the offender, and then the lights would come on in delightful, colorful glory. There were a few of the candle-shaped lights that were supposed to bubble, but after a few years they did well just to light up. In later years there was tinsel to hang on the tree, and plastic icicles, and even lights that did not all go out if one failed.

Then came the years of artificial trees. They were more perfect and modern and from America and they looked more like the pictures in the Saturday Evening Post, but somehow -- they never seemed quite as "right" as the casuarina branches -- and the only smell they had was of musty staleness.

Sometimes I just sat in the living room and looked at the tree, and at the presents that began to accumulate under the tree (but which we couldn’t touch), and I would dream delightful dreams of anticipation and wonder what was in those packages.

And it seemed that Christmas would never actually arrive.

And it was wonderful.

Finally, after weeks of anticipation and delighted, seemingly unending, frustration, The Day Before Christmas arrived.The excitement was unbearable. Nothing really happened that day, and the boring suspense was terrible.

I knew that some families cheated and opened their presents – or at least one present – on Christmas Eve, but I knew that such behavior wasn't really proper, and that wasn't how WE did Christmas. No, we waited – and suffered – until THE Day.

The Night Before Christmas was not just a poem to me. It was the LONGEST night of the year. I tried hard to sleep (I knew Santa Clause couldn't come until I was asleep). I listened carefully for reindeer (I had been assured that Santa could handle the fact that we had neither chimney nor snow). And my mind danced in unquenchable excitement as I anticipated the delights to come with the next daylight. Eventually, sleep would sneak in behind the drumming from the town and overpower me when I wasn't looking.

Suddenly, it was The Morning, and Christmas was HERE! Mother would wake me and bundle me into my robe and slippers, and we would step out onto our upstairs porch to begin CHRISTMAS!

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