Today, when millions of people in Nigeria and around the world gather to celebrate Christmas, you probably have your mind set on spending time with your loved ones, exchanging gifts, eating delicious festive food, and watching your favourite holiday classics. But have you ever wondered how Christmas traditions started in Nigeria and how long have Nigerians celebrated Christmas? Find out right now!
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The official account of the first-ever Christmas celebrated in Nigeria is 1842, but the history of Christmas in Nigeria started earlier than that – in 1838, to be precise. In 1838, a ship containing around 500 freed slaves from the United States arrived at Badagry in Lagos. Among those 500 new settlers, there was James Ferguson, the leader of a trading group and a representative of the Methodist church. He wrote to the King of Badagry to ask his permission to begin missionary work in the region. After receiving permission, James Ferguson began his work.
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On March 2, 1841, James Ferguson sent a letter to Reverend Dove from the Missionary Committee in London. More than 6 months from that date, on September 23, 1841, Reverend Dove got back to Ferguson. Not only did he reply to his letter, but he also sent Reverent Thomas Birch Freeman to manage the mission’s operations in Badagry. He didn’t come alone – Reverent Freeman brought William de Graft and his wife, who were both originally from Ghana and came as his assistants.
Already on the day after his arrival, Reverend Freeman preached his first Christian sermon under the Agia tree. On December 11, 1842, Freeman was invited to preach in Abeokuta for a part of Badagry settlers who relocated to a new area. On December 24, he got back to Badagry and saw that Reverend Henry Townsend from the Church Missionaries Society was there. In fact, Reverend Townsend has been there since December 17, unbeknownst to anyone else.
On December 25, 1842, Reverend Freeman and Reverend Townsend gathered to celebrate the first-ever Christmas in Nigeria under the Agia tree. They were joined by numerous other believers, who included the former slaves who settled in Badagry, European settlers, and regular Badagry locals. The first Christmas celebration was a huge success and the holiday soon spread to other parts of the country. Even though Christmas Day on December 25 was officially adopted by The United States in 1870, it had been celebrated by Nigerians for almost 30 years before that.
As more and more Nigerian believers accepted December 25 as the most important Christian holiday of the year, the celebrations became bigger, louder, and more lavish. The Agia tree, where the original Christmas celebration took place, survived until 1959 before falling down due to old age. However, by that time, it was no longer the main Christmas celebration spot, although it continued having a big symbolic meaning and is still remembered even though it’s no longer around.
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