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Why Igbos Always Travel Home During Christmas Period - Come Rain, Come Shine

I personally told my friend that I'm not going to travel this time and he told me to forget that thing. That before new year now I go carry my bag travel, that I'm an Igbo and no matter what, if they tell me that masquerade is dancing in the village now, I will travel. I laughed anyway and got crossed with him instantly.

I looked at him and said "why are you guys so stupid? (He is Yoruba), Why do you guys always have problem with Igbos in everything? Even to travel to their various villages to see their people, you people will still complain. What is wrong with you guys. Lagos is not my land, I got to go and see my people and apparently, you still have problem with that. My friend had to shut up.

Well this article I stumbled upon on net will explain to whoever care to know the reason is necessary for any Igbo man anywhere to come home and see his people at least once in a year during festive periods like Christmas ...

“It has become our tradition to travel every Christmas. I am going with my wife and my children because this is the only opportunity to see our relatives who are based in other parts of the country and even abroad. We meet to discuss family issues. No matter the fare, we must go.” At the Jibowu Bus Park in Lagos during the week, Ugochukwu Anufurum was firm on going “home” for Christmas/New Year celebrations no matter the situation.

The Yuletide and New Year season is one of the few seasons millions of people look forward to every year all over the world. In Nigeria, it is one of the few seasons that bring friends and families together, including long-lost ones, and as such, one that countless number of people always looks forward to.

However, the Igbo people in the South East section of the country are known to have, over the years, developed special interest for this season (seemingly above all others) and as such would do everything possible that they mark the season in grand styles. It is therefore a very common sight to see the Igbo using the occasion of Christmas to storm their villages from wherever they might be, including far away cities like Lagos and Abuja, while some even travel from outside the countries for the same purpose.

The Igbo, as believed in some quarters, love to show off their wealth and flaunt what they have and this they do more than any other ethnic group in Nigeria. It is believed that they use the Christmas time to travel to their villages to show off the wealth they have been able to accumulate over the year.
However, the pan-Igbo socio-cultural group, Ohanaeze Indigbo, strongly differed as it declared that the Igbo never travel at Christmas because of show off. The group vehemently denied that the mass travelling of Igbo, especially during the Yuletide, is done for showboating, but rather something the Igbo do as a mark of respect for their roots. As such, the group maintained that no Igbo person should ever be vilified over the issue.

In a chat with Saturday Tribune, the Publicity Secretary of the Ohanaeze Indigbo, South West, Mr Peter Anosike, pointed out that only two tribes in the whole world-the Igbo and the Israelis-were known to never joke with their roots and who always ‘remember their homes’ wherever they might be in any part of the world.

“Anywhere we go, we must always remember home. The only tribes that remember home are the Igbo and Israelites. Even when they die in a foreign land, they would prefer that their dead bodies be brought back home for burial. As people that have travelled far and wide, the Christmas time provides the Indigbos the opportunity to see their families and loved ones again.

“So it is more of a home-coming for an average Igbo traveler, because an individual you’ve not seen from January to December, you are suddenly given the opportunity to see such an individual. So travelling home for Christmas is never about showoff and those who have such a notion should discard it immediately. The period provides an opportunity for Indigbos from all walks of life to have a reunion sort of,” he pointed out.

At this juncture, it is noteworthy to state that there are many other festivals that also serve as an avenue for south-easterners to visit their villages, or “home” as it is generally referred to. Each of such festivals is unique in its own way and attracts its own fair share of participants. For example, Easter, another major Christian festival, also serves the same purpose, while there a few traditional festivals that Igbo still hold in high esteem and which they would do their best possible to participate in.

Some of such traditional functions or festivals include: the annual kingship festival, that is, the Ofala Festival, which is mostly celebrated during the Christmas in different villages in Igboland; Iwa Akwa; and the Okonko Festival, which is used as the festival to celebrate the coming of age of male youths. There is also the Iza aha, Ede aro festival (in celebration of the Aro Deity), age grade meetings, as well as the Iwa Ji Festival, which is the famous New Yam Festival, among others.

These cultural and traditional activities would almost always make an average Igboman embark on a journey back home to participate in the festivities. But despite this large array of festivals and their popularity, it is only right to say that Christmas and festivities associated with it dwarf them all.

The real seasons the Igbo don’t joke with going “home” during this period has always been a source of debate, especially among non-Igbo and no matter the length of such debates, the real reasons have always remained evasive. However, inquest into some of the arguments provided by those who engage in this practice and those who don’t might provide some sort of insights into possible reasons behind this annual pilgrimage.

For many, one reason the Igbo travel home for Christmas is to ensure family reunion. According to those who nurse this belief, only few tribes in the world could match the adventurous and industrious nature of the Igbo. Therefore, according to those who hold this argument, if an Igbo individual has been away from his home and roots all through the year, it is only normal for such people to create an avenue for themselves to meet once again in an atmosphere of unity and camaraderie.

Sharing this view with Saturday Tribune, was a Lagos-based businessman and an octogenarian, Pa Uche Anisiemeka, who claimed to have spent over 60 years in Lagos. Pa Anisiemeka’s escapades and success in Lagos have him boasting of an enviable house and other investments in the Okota area of the city. But despite his over six-decade sojourn in Lagos, Pa Anisiemeka claimed to have only missed spending his Christmas holidays in his native Imo State on a few occasions.

“It is common knowledge that the Igbo are very enterprising. They are migrant-entrepreneurs who are endowed with immense competitive spirit. They prefer to leave their families and homes in search of greener pastures elsewhere. They can live in the cities from the beginning of the year to the end without visiting home, but one thing a lot of them would not do is to celebrate Christmas outside of their hometowns, in the company of their families, friends and age-long colleagues. Celebrating Christmas at home is considered typically cultural and it is curiously expected of anyone living in town or abroad to re-connect with the home people during Christmas,” he told Saturday Tribune.

Yet, there are many others (mostly non-Igbo) who are of the opinion that the yearly journey home is spurred primarily by ego, showmanship and unhealthy competition, rather than genuine need for reunion. Saturday Tribune, during the week took up the task of attempting to unveil the reason(s) for this ageless behaviour and as such, some opinions of randomly selected Igbo travelers were sampled. The quest to solve this “mystery” took Saturday Tribune to some popular motor parks in Lagos which, as expected, had become a beehive of activities.

At the popular and ever-busy Maza Maza Bus Terminus in Lagos, a middle-age traveler who identified himself as Chinedu Obasi, argued that no matter how busy one is, he should always create time to remember home. According to him, since it is practically impossible for many Igbo living in the other parts of the country to be travelling home as often as they would have loved, calving out just one period in an entire year to achieve this purpose is not too much. This, he said, is what the yearly journey home during Christmas is all about.

“Christmas brings a moment in a year when all Igbo or majority of them living outside Igboland return to their villages to reunite with their kin who they have not seen, probably in the last 12 months,” said Obasi, who was getting set to travel to his native Enugu State.

Similarly, Chizaram, a 37-year-old native of Abia State, also pointed out to Saturday Tribune that Christmas provided the only opportunity she had of seeing her aged parents, other relatives and loved ones, who like her, were living in far places. Chizaram, who was spotted making last minutes efforts to board a bus, also at Maza Maza, which was going to her hometown of Umuahia in Abia State, said she was willing to brave all odds to make the journey.

She however also hinted that it might be impossible to rule out showoff and show-boasting as one of the reasons some travel at this time, a development she said often served as one of the reasons young men and women often veered to a life of crime so that they would be able to make money at all cost so as to be able to meet up with others. She further pointed out that, in some instances, parents whose children are coming home go all the way to boast about such children and the children in return will do everything possible not to disappoint such parents, including taking to a life of crime.

“To an average Igbo man, going to the village is non-negotiable. Far and near, sons and daughters return home, besiege their respective villages, not only to celebrate Christmas with their kith and kin, but also to provide an opportunity for many families to boast about their illustrious sons and daughters, whom they are proud of,” she said.

But for other travelers, the yearly exodus is nothing more than a family tradition. At the Jibowu Bus Park, yet another traveler, Ugochukwu Anufurum, insisted that the period provided an opportunity for him to attend to salient and sometimes delayed family/community matters, especially since other important stakeholders in such matters would also be around.

“I can say that this is why the Igbo work hard to ensure that they gather enough money with which they can go home for the Christmas celebration. They do this because the communal life they live as umunna would require them to give gifts to their kin when they get back home,” he further noted.