List of National Public Holidays in Nigeria

by Amos Kalu

A number of holidays are celebrated in Nigeria by the religious communities and the subnational units that are more commonly referred to as states. In the following article, we will examine the holidays celebrated nationally in the West African nation.

Table of Contents

New Year’s Day (January 1)

New Year’s Day is celebrated on January 1, the first day of the Gregorian calendar year. The Julian calendar celebrates New Year’s on January 1, but not the Gregorian calendar. Most solar calendars (Gregorian and Julian) begin the year at or near the northern winter solstice, whereas lunisolar or lunar calendar civilizations celebrate their New Year at less defined points relative to the solar year. Under the Julian calendar, pre-Christian Rome dedicated the day to Janus, the deity of doorways and beginnings. From Roman times until the 18th century, the new year was celebrated on December 25, March 1, March 25, and Easter. Most countries now use the Gregorian calendar as their civil calendar. Therefore January 1 is one of the most recognized public holidays in the world, commonly celebrated with fireworks at the stroke of midnight after New Year’s Eve as the new year starts in each time zone. Making New Year’s resolutions and phoning friends and relatives are other customs.

Armed Forces Remembrance Day (January 15)

Armed Forces Remembrance Day (AFRD), often called Remembrance Day, is a public holiday in Nigeria held on January 15 to honor Nigerian military service members. It honors WWI, WWII, and Nigerian Civil War veterans. Remembrance Day was initially observed as a former British colony on November 11 as Poppy Day. After the government’s triumph against Biafran soldiers on January 15, 1970, the holiday was moved off the Commonwealth of Nations calendar to January 15 to commemorate the end of the Nigerian Civil War. Armed Forces Remembrance Day honors Nigerian military soldiers and veterans. Federal, state, and municipal events occur. Two months before January 15, the Ministry of Defense forms a 25-person national organizing committee for AFRD celebrations. Nigerian Army, Navy, and Air Force guards of honor typically participate in military parades. The President of Nigeria lays a wreath at the National Cenotaph in Eagle Square, Abuja. Thirty-six cenotaphs host AFRD ceremonies. The government and the Nigerian Legion arrange several celebrations on this day.

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Good Friday (March or April)

Good Friday commemorates Jesus’ crucifixion at Calvary. It’s part of Holy Week’s Paschal Triduum. Holy Friday, Great Friday, Holy and Great Friday, and Black Friday are other names. Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Lutheran, Anglican, Methodist, Oriental Orthodox, United Protestant, and various Reformed traditions (including Continental Reformed, Presbyterian, and Congregationalist churches) fast and attend church services on Good Friday. In many Catholic, Lutheran, Anglican, and Methodist churches, the Service of the Great Three Hours’ Agony is held from noon to 3 pm, from Jesus’ crucifixion to darkness engulfing the earth. Moravians scrub gravestones on Good Friday. Both the Gregorian and Julian calendars vary the date of Good Friday. Eastern and Western Christianity disagree on Easter and Good Friday’s dates. Good Friday is a legal holiday in most Western countries and 12 U.S. states. Some predominantly Christian nations, like Germany, restrict dancing and horse racing on Good Friday.

Easter Monday (March or April)

When a significant saint’s feast day falls during Holy Week or Easter Sunday, it is commemorated on Easter Monday. Easter Monday is either the Eastern or Western Christian holiday after Easter Sunday. Some countries celebrate it, including Nigeria.  In Western Christianity, it’s the second day of Easter Octave and Bright Week in Eastern Christianity. This day is called “Bright Monday” or “Renewal Monday” in Eastern Orthodox and Byzantine Catholic churches. The services, as in the rest of Bright Week, are similar to those on Pascha (Easter Sunday) and include an outdoor procession after the Divine Liturgy; while this is prescribed for all days of that week, parish churches, especially in non-Orthodox countries, only celebrate it on Monday and maybe a couple of other days.

Eid al-Fitr (April)

Eid al-Fitr is the first Islamic holiday (the other being Eid al-Adha). Muslims worldwide celebrate the completion of Ramadan’s dawn-to-sunset fast. It falls on the first day of Shawwal in the Islamic calendar, which only sometimes falls on the same Gregorian day due to when local religious authorities sight the new moon. Different languages and countries call the holiday by other names. Lesser Eid is also named Eid. Eid al-Fitr has a special salat (Islamic prayer) that consists of two rakats (units). It may only be performed in assembly (Jamat) and incorporates seven additional Takbirs (raising hands to ears while repeating “Allahu Akbar”, meaning “God is greatest”) in the Hanafi school of Sunni Islam: three at the start of the first Rakat and three shortly before ruk in the second Rakat. Other Sunni schools have 12 Takbirs, divided into seven and five groups. In Shia Islam, the first Rakat of salat has six Takbirs after qira’a and five after ruk. Depending on local law, this salat is far, mustahabb, or mandb. After the salat, Muslims celebrate Eid al-Fitr with food (Eid cuisine), which earns the event the nickname “Sweet Eid” or “Sugar Feast.”

Workers’ Day (May 1)

International Workers’ Day, also known as Labour Day in some countries and May Day is a celebration of laborers and the working classes advocated by the international labor movement (May 1). In 1889, the Marxist International Socialist Congress met in Paris and founded the Second International as a successor to the International Workingmen’s Association. They called for a “big international demonstration” for the eight-hour day. The American Federation of Labor chose the date to continue a campaign for an eight-hour day in the U.S., which had caused a national strike on May 1, 1886, and ended in the Haymarket disaster four days later. May Day became annual. The 1904 Sixth Conference of the Second International called on “all Social Democratic Party organizations and trade unions of all countries to demonstrate energetically on the First of May for the legal establishment of the eight-hour day, for the class demands of the proletariat, and universal peace”. Many countries, including Nigeria, celebrate May 1 as “International Workers’ Day” or a similar name.

Children’s Day (May 27)

The date of Children’s Day varies from country to country. International Children’s Day was initially established in Geneva in 1925. Most Communist and post-Communist countries have celebrated on June 1 since 1950. World Children’s Day commemorates the 1959 Declaration of the Rights of the Child by the UN General Assembly. In certain nations, it’s Children’s Week. May 27 is Nigeria’s Children’s Day; the holiday began in 1964. It’s a primary and secondary school holiday. Due to the country’s size, only a few schools or organizations are chosen to march in a parade. Children are often rewarded with outings or adult chores. Primary and secondary school students compete in military parades for a prize. Nigerian religious organizations commemorate Children’s Day too. Many private and public groups throw children’s parties to give kids a sense of belonging. Media outlets assess the predicament of children in society and government and nongovernment attempts to help them.

Democracy Day (June 12)

Nigeria’s Democracy Day is June 12. Nigerian government held it every May 29 till June 6, 2018. Democracy Day honors the day the military relinquished control to an elected civilian government in 1999, commencing Nigeria’s most extended continuous civilian rule since independence in 1960. Since 2000, it’s been an annual tradition. June 12 was originally Abiola Day in Lagos, Nigeria, and certain southwestern states. Nigeria’s Democracy Day celebrates the country’s restored democracy. May 29 was initially Nigeria’s official democracy day, recognizing when Olusegun Obasanjo took office as President in 1999, ending decades of military dictatorship that began in 1966 and was broken by a brief period of democracy from 1979 to 1983. The Nigerian government designated June 12 as the new Democracy Day on June 6, 2018, eight days after May 29. Buhari’s inaugural address for his second term was June 12, 2019. These were done to mark MKO Abiola’s free and fair election on June 12, 1993. The Ibrahim Babangida Junta cancelled it. After declaring himself President, MKO Abiola was jailed. MKO Abiola died after sipping tea during his release negotiations. MKO coughed in front of Kofi Annan and died in the hospital, promising to restore decent governance in Nigeria.

Eid al-Adha (June or July)

Eid al-Adha is Islam’s second and largest holiday (the other being Eid al-Fitr). It honors Ibrahim’s willingness to sacrifice his son Ismail to obey Allah’s instruction. Before Ibrahim could sacrifice his son in the name of God, Allah gave him a lamb to slay in his place. Animals are sacrificed to commemorate this intervention. The donating family eats part of the animal’s meat while the rest is given to the destitute. Extended family members are usually welcomed and given sweets. Eid al-Adha begins on the tenth of Dhu al-Hijjah and lasts four days. In the Gregorian calendar, dates shift 11 days earlier each year. Sometimes dubbed the Greater Eid.

Independence Day (October 1)

Nigeria’s Independence Day is October 1. Nigeria declared independence on October 1 1960. In 1914, the Southern and Northern Nigeria Protectorates were merged to become modern-day Nigeria. Calls for independence in Africa and the fall of the British Empire led to Nigeria’s independence on October 1 1960, as the Federation of Nigeria. Three years later, the Nigerian government changed the constitution, and Nnamdi Azikiwe, previously Governor-General, became the first President. Lieutenant David Ejoor, subsequently Chief of Army Staff, commanded the midnight flag-raising guard in 1960.

Mawlid (October)

Mawlid, Mawlid an-Nabi ash-Sharif, or Eid Milad un Nabi is the birthday of the Islamic prophet Muhammad, celebrated in Rabi’ al-awwal. Most Sunni scholars recognize the 12th of Rabi’ al-awwal, whereas most Shia scholars accept the 17th. West Africa calls it Maouloud. In the early days of Islam, Tabi’un spoke and sang poetry and melodies honoring Muhammad to audiences. Muzaffar al-Din Gökböri allegedly held the first official celebration of Muhammad’s birth. In 1588, the Ottomans proclaimed it Mevlid Kandil. Mawlid is also used in Egypt to refer to the birthday celebrations of Sufi saints. Most Muslim denominations accept celebrating Muhammad’s birthday, while Wahhabism-Salafism, Deobandism, Ahl-i Hadith, and Ahmadiyya consider it a religious innovation (bid’ah or bidet). Qatar and Saudi Arabia do not recognize Mawlid as a national holiday. Ethiopia, India, Tanzania, and other non-Muslim majority countries with sizable Muslim populations also recognize it.

Christmas Day (December 25)

Christmas is an annual religious and cultural celebration celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ on December 25. It is preceded by Advent or the Nativity Fast and initiates Christmastide, which lasts twelve days and ends on the Twelfth Night. Christmas Day is a public holiday in many countries, is observed religiously by most Christians and culturally by many non-Christians, and is central to the holiday season. According to the traditional Christmas story in the New Testament, Jesus was born in Bethlehem to fulfil messianic prophecies. When Joseph and Mary arrived in the city, the inn was full, so they were offered a stable where the Christ Child was born. Angels told shepherds, who spread the news. The church fixed Jesus’ birthdate as December 25 in the early fourth century. This is the Roman winter solstice. It’s nine months since March 25, the Annunciation and spring equinox. Most Christians celebrate on December 25 in the Gregorian calendar, which is used worldwide. Eastern Christian Churches celebrate Christmas on December 25 in the Julian calendar, which is January 7 in the Gregorian calendar. Rather than knowing Jesus’ actual birth date, Christians celebrate Christmas because they believe God became a man to atone for humanity’s sins. Christmas customs in many countries have pre-Christian, Christian, and secular roots. Modern Christmas customs include gift giving, completing an Advent calendar or wreath, Christmas music and caroling, viewing a Nativity play, exchanging Christmas cards, attending church services, eating a special meal, and decorating with Christmas trees, lights, nativity scenes, garlands, wreaths, mistletoe, and holly. Santa Claus, Father Christmas, Saint Nicholas, and Christkind are closely related and often interchangeable personalities connected with providing gifts to children during Christmas. Because of gift-giving and other economic considerations, Christmas is an important event and a key sales period for shops and businesses. Christmas’ economic impact has grown in numerous regions over the past few centuries.

Boxing Day (December 26)

Boxing Day was originally a gift-giving holiday, but it’s now a shopping holiday. It began in Britain and is honored across former British colonies. Boxing Day is observed the day after Christmas (December 26). The linked bank or public holiday may be on December 28 if needed to fall on a weekday. Saint Stephen’s Day falls on Boxing Day. Saint Stephen’s Day is the second day of Christmas in Spain, the Czech Republic, Germany, Hungary, the Netherlands, Italy, Poland, Slovakia, Croatia, Denmark, Finland, Sweden, Belgium, Norway, and Ireland.

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