For hundreds of years, Christmas has been celebrated by Christians across the world as the anniversary of Jesus Christ’s birth. It is one celebration Christians don’t miss because it comes with loads of fun, merriment, love, jollof rice and chicken.
Although, the actual date Jesus Christ was born remains unknown, the Western Christian Church tagged December 25 as his birthday and this was accepted all over the world.
You might have been longing to know when, where and how the first Christmas in Nigeria was celebrated or in short, the history of Christmas in Nigeria. As usual, OldNaija has you covered.
History of Christmas in Nigeria
The history of Christmas in Nigeria is traced to the repatriation of freed slaves from the United States of America to Badagry in Lagos, Nigeria in 1838. About five hundred freed slaves settled in Badagry and among them was James Ferguson, a Methodist and leader of a trading group.
On March 2, 1841, this James Ferguson, after being granted approval, invited the missionaries in Sierra Leone to start missionary work in Badagary.
The authorities responded to James’ invitation on September 23, 1841 and then sent a missionary named Reverend Thomas Birch Freeman to Badagry. Reverend Freeman arrived in a ship called Spy which anchored in a place known as Gberefu (Klefu) Sea Beach.
The reverend was accompanied by two African assistants, William De Graft and his wife who were both from Gold Coast (now Ghana). Reverend Freeman with his assistants was saddled with the responsibility of propagating Christianity in Badagry and other parts of Nigeria. A day after his arrival, he preached a sermon about Christianity under the Agia tree in Asisoe Tin, Badagry.
Meanwhile, some of the freed slaves had left Badagry to settle in the rocky town of Abeokuta. Sodeke, the Alake (King) of Egba, then invited Reverend Freeman to preach Christianity in his town.
Reverend Freeman travelled to Abeokuta on December 11, 1842 and returned to Badagry on December 24, a day before Christmas, and met the renowned Reverend Henry Townsend of the Church Missionaries society (CMS now Anglican Church of Christ).
The following day which was December 25, 1842 saw Reverend Freeman and Henry Townsend celebrating the first Christmas in Nigeria under the Agia tree in Asisoe Tin, Badagry. The Christmas celebration was attended by the devoted population of Badagry natives, the freed slaves and Europeans living in Badagry at that time.
The celebration began with Reverend Henry Townsend reading from the scripture and then Reverend Freeman rendered a sermon which he titled ‘The Incarnation Redeemer of Mankind’.
Christmas celebration began in Nigeria as a gathering under a tree in Badagry but as at today, it has gone beyond such to a large and glamourous celebration with fanfare.
Besides being the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ, Christmas in Nigeria serve as a means of bringing families and loved ones together to share joyous and memorable moments.
- Hillerbrand, H. J. (2020, December 16). Christmas. Encyclopedia Britannica.
- Omipidan, Teslim Opemipo. (2017). Iwe-Irohin: The First Newspaper In Nigeria by Reverend Henry Townsend. OldNaija.