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Sights, sounds of Christmas

Before midnight, the interim between  December 24 and 25th, Christmas day; the air acquired a volume of unusual and yet familiar noise as fire crackers…

Before midnight, the interim between  December 24 and 25th, Christmas day; the air acquired a volume of unusual and yet familiar noise as fire crackers rent the air. It was Christmas eve and some youths seemed to habitually usher  in the season with fire works and ‘knock-outs’. During the day commercial banks hardly had space to breathe as customers seemed to rush in for cash. The queues outside their entrances and on the ATM machines were amazing sights to behold. It appeared everyone was out to take out as much cash as possible for the holiday.
When the day came the streets of Nigeria’s capital city carried an air of extreme quiet, an unusual scenario for a place not known to be calm or still. These signs of strange silence had actually begun days before but soon became more pronounced. Usually, the blaring of horns, coupled with the screeching of tires, shouts from drivers and Motor Park touts, pedestrians streaming in multiple lines and the activities of work or business was the order of the day. But everyone was on holiday (Well, almost everyone) and the order of Abuja had simply become ‘leisure’ and ‘play’. Many shops were closed while a few remained open from the early hours of the morning as Christians celebrating the historic birth of Christ commuted to their various churches. Hotels were eager to give discounts as customers had trickled down to a petty number. “We had to do it because of the dwindling number of customers,” a hotel manager said.
Movement into and within the main city was minimal on the first day. Majority of residents in the satellite towns seemed to have either travelled or preferred moving within their immediate environment. The mass transit buses positioned in areas such as Nyanya remained basically idle and seemed to buttress the point that they are just a means to an end for workers who flow into the city during the working days. However, the large number of people seen in relaxation spots within Abuja showed that they were mostly those who lived within or not far from the core of the capital city. It was either a jolly good time at the parks or a good rest at home, it seemed.
Empty streets
The streets of Abuja were empty. Taxi’s and commercial buses were very few. In fact, the mass transit buses seemed to have gone to sleep. Their usual presence on almost every busy route was nowhere to be found. At AYA, the story was the same where a crowd of passengers habitually gathered close to the flyover. The passengers were few, the commercial vehicles too. Area one and many other places gave off the same emptiness. “Wait till you get to the road around the Umaru Musa Yar’adua Centre which leads to Silver Bird, and then you will see the traffic,” a taxi driver informed. And he was true to his word.
Heavy traffic
Heavy traffic became the order of the day around some parks, but especially the Silver Bird Entertainment Centre where people eager to relax within the confines of the entertainment Centre streamed into the premises. As the afternoon elapsed, the traffic bred a long meandering queue of people, especially youths. Inside, movie freaks searched out movies they craved to watch and went for their tickets, some loitered around boutiques and shops filled with toys and other accessories, while others patronized the varieties of eateries in the centre. At the just re-opened Wonderland Amusement Park, fun seekers streamed in endlessly and by the time evening came there was hardly enough parking space for the teeming cars cruising into its premises. “Many people are not even aware that this place is open yet. Come and see the crowd that was here last year. It was far more than this,” a taxi driver awaiting passengers at the entrance intimated.
This time around most families remained together (unlike at other times when work and school split them apart at dawn) as they covered the distance to their local assembly in their private vehicles, while others jam-packed themselves in commercial buses or taxi’s. For a brief moment, the morning was a bit active, but not as active, as the time for church service varied from church to church. Cars crawled out of homes and hit the road, only to quickly stop at a worship centre not very far away. The 25th of December happens to be one of the days that residents of the city and those around it do not have to rush to the city centre where their offices or business was located. Even the hawkers had taken a partial break. But for a few of them there break meant an opportunity to monopolize the market as they targeted amusement parks like the Millennium, Maitama and Wonderland amusement parks.
The hawkers   
The hawkers knew what the season meant. It meant red caps or hats, flip-ups, candies and everything else that the Christmas celebration seemed to be demanding. Before the D-day, many had hounded motorists on the streets, but now withdrew to relaxation spots where they knew the market would come to. So they bore their goods and crouched around the amusement parks. They certainly were not unaware of the re-opening of the famous Wonderland Amusement Park. They were already outside its entrance at sunrise.
Make-up masks
The streets were virtually empty. The celebration was taken off the streets and was held within the walls of amusement parks and entertainment centres. It was a general holiday, so not only those celebrating the Christmas were there. This is another reason why the streets were empty. A basic feature of the fun in Wonderland was the wearing of masks painted around the eyes. Children and even some adults had their faces masked in glittering colours and in a bat-like fashion before they went about having fun.
Celebrating red
The families trouped into the parks in batches. For many, it was the celebration of the colour red. Caps and hats were worn by many who walked in groups with some wearing the exact replica of the Santa Clause (popularly called ‘Father Christmas’) cap. In a corner of Wonderland, parents took their children to see Father Christmas. In his long beard and red costume he patted each child while they waited to be handed the much sort after present from Santa.
Cameras clicked away as friends and families took turns in snapping photographs. Private cameras clicked continuously as people moved from one spot to another. “The city is dry. I just came into the country and decided to come in here and have some fun with my brothers. We intend to do a variety of things here and also watch a movie,” Oscar, a young man at the Silver Bird Entertainment Centre said as he took photographs with his two siblings. Just a small distance away, family members were attended to by professional photographers who clicked at their cameras endlessly. 
Fun machines
At Wonderland, parents watched in awe as their daring children screamed off their heads on the roller coaster. Others, especially the boys, went for rock climbing. At game shops adults watched or sat around tables while children rode game motor bikes or threw basketballs into a mechanized ring. At the Silver bird entertainment Centre the gaming zone was crammed with hardly enough space to walk by.   
Decorations of glittering lights beautified Abuja. Residences, the Nigerian Police Force headquarters, banks and other public and private business centres were a variety of twinkling lights. At Nyanya, some parts of the streets had green colours wound around electric poles. But the amusement parks and especially the Silver Bird Entertainment Centre was a far cry from many in its party of glitters. People trouped in and stood to have their photographs taken before the giant Christmas tree that was just inside its front doors. Lights rose into the expanse between its several floors, blinking, twinkling… 
Another circle
The second day of Christmas  Boxing Day, specially designed for the exchange of gifts amongst family and friends and also for visitation. On that day the flow of people from satellite towns into the centre of Abuja was obvious for one reason–It had more of the fun spots. The mass transit buses were more active and people walked about the city more. After Christmas comes the New Year and then the circle starts again. Thus the return of conventional business activities, heavy traffic and odour of their exhaust fume remains inevitable as the clock ticks and the sun rises and sets.     

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