Christmas was officially adopted as Christmas Day in the United States in 1870. After that time, Christmas became a federal holiday. But before that time, freed slaves had started settling in parts of West Africa, including about 500 in Freetown. Back then, there was transportation between Freetown and Badagry in Lagos, Nigeria.
One of those ex-slaves who had come to Nigeria was James Ferguson. He was a leader of a trading group. Ferguson, a Methodist, sought the approval of the King of Badagry to write a letter to the missionaries stationed in Sierra Leone to come and start missionary work in Badagry. He was granted the permission to do so.
Upon getting the permission of the king, on March 2, 1841, Ferguson sent a letter to one Reverend Dove, who was with a missionary committee in London. Six months later, on September 23, 1841, he got a word from the committee. But it was not just a word he got in reply, he also got a reverend to attend to the spiritual needs of Badagry people.
This missionary, Reverend Thomas Birch Freeman, arrived in a small ship called Spy. The ship berthed in a place called Gberefu (KLEFU) Sea Beach.
But Reverend Freeman did not come alone. He was accompanied by two African assistants: William De Graft and his wife, both from Ghana, called the Gold Coast at the time. The job of the reverend was cut out, to preach Christianity to the people. A day after his arrival, he was taken to Asisoe Tin, under an Agia tree, and there, he first preached a sermon about Christianity.
Later on, Freeman left for Abeokuta to meet with King Sodeke. He had been invited to preach Christianity to slave returnees who had moved from Badagry to settle in Abeokuta. On December 11, 1842, he arrived Abeokuta to a heroic reception. Upon his return to Badagry on December 24, Reverend Freeman and others saw that the renowned Reverend Henry Townsend of Church Missionaries society (CMS now Anglican Church of Christ) was also in Badagry. In fact, he had been around in Badagry precisely a week earlier.
The very next day was December 25, Christmas Day. On that day, Reverend Freeman went with Reverend Townsend to celebrate the first Christmas in Nigeria on December 25, 1842 under an Agia tree.
That Christmas service saw in attendance a lot of devoted Christians. They were mainly Badagry townspeople, Europeans living in Badagry and slave returnees who had settled in Badagry.
That first Christmas was special for a lot of people. Reverend Townsend commenced the ceremony by reading from the scripture and Reverend Freeman delivered the sermon of the day, which was titled ‘The Incarnation Redeemer of Mankind.’
Interestingly, the Agia tree famous for hosting the first Christmas celebration in Nigeria fell in June 1959 after being in existence for over 300 years.
Christmas has since then become the popular celebration we know it to be in Nigeria ever since. No more is it just held under one small tree or building, rather, it is now held with a lot of fanfare, music, carols, lighting, church services, special meals of Jollof rice, and a lot of beautiful displays, adornments, embellishments and laughter.
Merry Christmas to you from the entire Africhroyale team.