Hilarious is one word that best describes Christmas time in Liberia; there are so many interesting things to see and places to go. The nation's capital Monrovia, comes alive during this time of year with lots of petty trading, singing, shopping, cooking and entertainment everywhere. One needs to be thoroughly schooled before choosing to spend their Christmas in Africa's Lone Star.
Below are 10 things the discerning traveler/tourist should look forward to when visiting the country during the holidays:
1. We do not have Santa Claus, but "Old Man Beggar" who dresses in a rag-like costume and begs for gifts. Prepare yourselves to give, give and give. No, you won't be receiving gifts from Santa, honey. 🙂
2. Instead of being told "Merry Christmas or Happy Holidays, you'll hear "My Christmas is on you" or "My Christmas is in your blood (or DNA)", indicating that no matter what, you can’t shake off the need to give money or gifts to the person saying that to you. This leaves you feeling like you owe everybody.
Note: Liberian humor is out of this world!
3. Expect to see a lot of petty trading (aka auctions) in the streets. This is the best time to get some colorful and trendy items at affordable prices. The streets are crowded and noisy, but that's not bad since you get to shop. Oh, don't forget to check out Waterside and Ma Juah Markets.
4. Commercial motorbikes, a.k.a Pen-Pen are all over the place. You can hop onto one of these and dash right though the dust! Sounds like that adventure you've always wanted to have, huh?
5. The dryness of the Harmattan Wind creates what I like to call a "Winter make – believe'', causing many to dress up in winter coats and hats. Liberians are very fond of America and this is the time that most people live out their dream of being “in the cold” (i.e. America). 🙂 The wind causes "Yanlaypaypay", a fun way Liberians refer to the dryness of skin, which leaves it looking dull and pale. Be sure to come with enough moisturizers, or get yourself some "Donut Grease, Koto or Temple of Heaven", while on the ground.
6. Don't get too carried away now; the begging continues even on Christmas morning. You'll hear a famous festive Liberian begging song, "Merry Christmas, We're At Your Door". At this point, Old Man Beggar & Co are [literally] at your door beating drums and singing defiantly. They're determined to stay and sing louder until you give them money.
7. Things take a lighter turn later during the day when you start receiving delicious dishes from neighbors and friends. Food is everywhere! "All my giving is finally paying off", I hear you say. 🙂 Fact: Liberians are excellent cooks!
8. There's relative calm the days after Christmas and then things heat up again as the spirit of the New Year sets in. New Year's eve is HUGE in Liberia and "Watch Night", a time we all go to church to thank God for everything He did for us during the year and for keeping us alive to see a brand new one. This is a big deal to most Liberians.
9. The Begging is not over yet! You'll hear another subtle begging song: "Happy New Year Me Na Die Oh" as early as 12 a.m. on New Year's Morning. At this point, you're not being forced to give, because everyone is just too busy giving thanks for being alive. You can join in the singing and dancing if you don't have anything to give. Last minute hustle, right? LOL!
10. Expect major withdrawals and stinginess in January after all the holiday giving and spending. 🙂 You sign up for more fun than you'd ever imagine, when you choose LIB for the holidays.
Have yourself a Begging Liberian Christmas!
Patrice Juah is a creative soul with a passion for poetry, prose and fashion design. She is the CEO and Artistic Director of Moie fashion line and former Miss Liberia 2006-2007.