October 1 is Christmas Day

When it’s Christmas season, one doesn’t need to be told. The decorations, the excitement that chokes the air, the giving of gifts, visits and lots more proclaim the Christmas season. Christmas is in December, right? What if you were told that for a community in northern Nigeria, October 1 has more “swag” than December 25? You would say it’s a Muslim community. Wrong! This community is more than 90% Christian. Yet for them, October 1 is “Christmas”.

At the southern border of Kaduna State, somewhere with closer links to Akwanga in Nassarawa State, and Jos in Plateau State, lies an unassuming community named Fadan Karshi. The community is largely agrarian, supported by a smattering of shops selling essential items. The only signs of government presence are a primary health centre, primary school, secondary school, and a contingent of soldiers brought in after a deadly attack by some Fulani herdsmen last year. The community’s youths gather almost every evening to play football, a sign that Fadan Karshi is gradually recovering from the needless bloodshed it suffered.

“In this community, they celebrate October 1 as Christmas”. When a teacher said this in the staff room, other corps members and I doubted him; we had no reason not to be like Thomas. We were all posted from the South, where for most of us, October 1 simply meant a public holiday, TV broadcasts, march parade by selected schools, and “Happy Independence Day” sounds. Nevertheless, observing dress rehearsals that seem to lend credence to the teacher’s words, we looked forward to October 1.

By 8am on October 1, drumbeats had begun to rend the air. I waited until 10am before leaving our lodge to witness the day’s activities. The only insignia of my status, was the NYSC face cap that that nimbly fit on my head—a dressing that in corper parlance is one-over-seven. Two other corps members joined me at the community centre—the ever busy roundabout. Fortunately, we arrived there just as a group of students were completing the first part of their traditional march along the main road. We joined them at the rear, while keeping a respectable distance. We didn’t know the venue for the morning’s activities, but we were certain that the marching kids would lead us there.

The pupils marched behind their respective school banners, ably marshalled by members of the Boy’s Brigade who also helped to control traffic along the road. As we drew closer to the venue, a high pitch shrill burst into existence, reminiscent of sounds heard in Amazon Jungle wartime movies. We looked back to see the originator of the sounds—an old woman with vocal cords that would mock a violin. She was in the spirit, basking in excitement. Not even a mental illness could restrain a certain young man from joining the fun. He ran back and forth among the crowd, explaining the event to all who did not care to listen.

At 11.15am, the morning’s event officially started at the primary school field, chaired by a representative of the Hakimi, the district head. As the Boy’s Brigade, Girl’s Brigade, and primary schools arranged themselves on the field, another group joined them—a motley crew of the town’s young and old clowns, comically decked with leaves and branches from the trees that dot Fadan Karshi. Apparently “gingered” by some puffs of “igbo” (read: weed), they reminded me of the “Awo Boys” at Great Ife, whose presence is equally despised and sorely anticipated during events.

Christmas Day was just starting. Many persons travelled down for the celebrations. Those on parade marched, and the crowd danced freely, knowing that the army was present with armoured cars to provide security. After the parade, the crowd moved to the community park cum market square, for the second course—cultural displays.

While the rest of the community headed for the cultural display, my corps crew headed in the opposite direction to our principal’s house. It was Christmas Day after all. Food-powered visits had to be done to spice the day. We tried our best not to commit suicide by overfeeding. Around 4pm, we headed back to the primary school field for another of the day’s events—a football match.

The match was between Fadan Karshi and a team from Jos. Both teams impressed the cheering crowd with some beautiful football. If Sunday Oliseh did not already have a Super Eagles team, I would have advised him to simply transplant the boys of Fadan Karshi into his team. They played very well, confident in their skills and control of the ball. At the end of the game, it was one-nil in favour of the home team.

After the game, as members of the community returned home to freshen up for yet another event, we returned to our principal’s house for another round of stomach-friendly banter. When we finally left his place after divorcing our mouths from filled-spoons, we noticed that the community had gathered at the primary school field for a party. The DJ was already on ground feeding the crowd with high velocity sounds. Unfortunately, we weren’t up for a party, so we headed for our lodges.

When I stirred around 1am, I could still hear music blasting from the party’s venue. This community sure knows how to celebrate. The celebration continued the next day with masquerades and cultural displays, giving many students a reason to miss school.

On December 25, Fadan Karshi will be quiet, not because they are Muslims, but because, for them, Christmas came earlier. October 1 is Christmas Day.

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