Nkem Story

Christmas, New Year’s & My Birthday – A 5 Year Reflection

January 12, 2017
birthday makeup, birthday reflection

This time of year is probably my all-time favorite. I love that Christmas is bursting with merry making and how the New Year is pregnant with opportunity. The season is sealed for me by my birthday landing on Jan. 3rd. I’m basically on Cloud 9 from Dec. 10th to January 10th. Sometimes Dec. 1st to Jan. 31st. It’s stressful but thrilling to plan out where I’ll spend the holidays, pick out gifts for loved ones, take in Christmas lights & displays, reassess my goals, create new ones, plan my birthday, and bask in all the love that overflows around me.

I didn’t always feel like this about the holidays, especially my birthday. I never used to put that much stock on my birthday because, more often than not, it was the first or 2nd day back at school. And the only thing more depressing that going back to school on your birthday, was knowing that everyone was partied out and too distracted to take much note of your January 3rd birthday. And let’s not even discuss how often my parents tried to roll my Christmas and birthday presents into one gift.

“I’m no longer waiting around for people to read my mind and vague clues in hopes that they’ll give me what I want. I create it myself.”

Something has changed over these past 5 years though, and each of my birthdays have been marvelous and exciting, and most of all filled with love. Besides the fact that I have celebrated all 5 of them in completely different countries, I have also drastically changed. What I appreciate and how I go about getting what I want has really matured. If I want a low key birthday, I do just that. If I want a bash, I just plan it myself. I’m no longer waiting around for people to read my mind and vague clues in hopes that they’ll give me what I want. I create it myself.

And this year’s birthday has been hands down, the best one so far. And that’s a tall order, considering all my birthdays have simply been amazing. There was nothing particularly mind blowing about this birthday, I think my perspective on it was just so drastically different. In fact, after gushing to a new acquaintance about my amazing birthday, he asked me what gifts I received. For the first time, I realized I didn’t open any physical presents that day.

Rather, I basked in the moment, enjoying the blessing of seeing another year on earth and having so many amazing people in my life wishing me happy birthday from around the world. And most of all, I spent it with family that made me feel special from 12am and well into the next day (although I opened a beautiful a few days prior). This year’s birthday was the best because I appreciated all the little things in life that make it worth marking from year to year.

“I realized I didn’t open any physical presents that day. Rather, I basked in the moment, enjoying the blessing of seeing another year on earth and having so many amazing people in my life wishing me happy birthday from around the world.”

And so, without further ado, I present a short reflection and where I’ve been for my birthday, New Year’s and Christmas the past 5 years.

2012/2013

ChristmasAwka, Nigeria – My mom, sister, and I flew to Nigeria to spend Christmas with my mom’s side of the family. We hadn’t seen our grandma since 2003, when she came to live with us after my sister’s birth. A lot of my cousins from that side of the family came home as well and it was awesome spending the holidays all under one roof.

New YearLagos, Nigeria – We set off a few fire crackers in the yard at midnight. On the 1st, I had to make my way back to Lagos to catch a flight on Jan. 2nd. I was really upset to be leaving my cousins when I could be staying to celebrate my birthday with them.

BirthdaySokode, Ghana (& Elon, NC) – I met up with my classmates in Accra, Ghana for our winter term study abroad program on Ghana’s History & Culture. There was a little over 30 of us, most of whom I didn’t know well. We made our way to the eastern part of Ghana on the 3rd and I told my roommates it was my birthday and wished the program started later so I could have spent it with my family. They ended up telling the whole class and the performer at the restaurant ended up singing and dancing just for me. We then started a dance circle! (Later, when I got back to the states, one of my close friends planned a surprise birthday party for me and 2 other January babies!)

Taking a canoe some where in Ghana. The two girls in blue at the end were my roomies that orchestrated the birthday surprise.

2013/2014

ChristmasIlorin, Nigeria – All my classmates had recently left Senegal after our study abroad program concluded and I was feeling pretty lonely. I was still in the country for another month doing research. I flew to Nigeria for a week, hoping that seeing family would put me back in the holiday spirit. And it did. I also spent time in Lagos visiting a few different family members.

New YearDakar, Senegal – I was back in Dakar for New Year’s Eve. My host brothers took me to the center of the neighborhood where kids let off fire crackers in the square at midnight. Everyone was screaming, laughing, and throwing the fire cracker AT each other. I thought I was in a battle zone. But I was too mesmerized to go home. I spent New Year’s day at the family gathering of a good friend. I also attended a P-Square concert (my first real concert) on Jan. 2nd with a classmate that had stayed to do a second semester in Senegal.

BirthdayDakar, Senegal – One of my Senegalese friends helped me plan a birthday party at his house. We had a roof top party then danced all night at a downtown club and took a ghost car rapide (informal public buses) home. I realized I still had plenty of friends in Dakar and was able to make the most of my month.

21st birthday in Senegal, rooftop birthday party

The rooftop birthday crew!

2014/2015

ChristmasMaryland, USA – My first Christmas at home in 2 years. I had an absolutely nostalgic day with loved ones, midnight Mass, exchanging gifts, and way too much food.

New YearMaryland, USA – Had a quiet dinner with someone special at an Indian restaurant, then went home to watch the ball drop on TV along with one of my oldest childhood friends.

BirthdayMaryland, USA (& Elon, NC) – My mom helped me plan a small birthday party with my friends and family that were in town. I was definitely feeling 22 and class af, with champagne and ice cream cake. The classiness continued and I had a dinner party when I got back to my university. I cooked jollof rice and chicken for a few close friends and the members of the Elon African SocietyΒ .

feeling 22 birthday

My only birthday at home in 6 years was AMAZING!

2015/2016

ChristmasLondon, UK – I spent Christmas with my aunt and her kids in London. Two other aunts and their kids were there as well. It was a full house and I absolutely loved playing auntie to all the kiddies in the house.

New YearAmsterdam, Netherlands – My awesome roomie, her friends and I brought in the New Year dancing the night away at a club in the heart of Amsterdam. The music was great and the crowd was live. But we had had a long day of sightseeing and called it an early night soon after the countdown.

BirthdayAmsterdam to Paris, France – We went out to get Indian food the day before my birthday because we were traveling on the 3rd. We traveled from Amsterdam to Paris on my birthday, which was quite fitting because I ended up having a year full of travelling! My aforementioned awesome roomie planned a birthday party for me with all of our friends in Paris.

January birthday Amsterdam

My Jan. 2nd birthday dinner in Amsterdam.

2016/2017

ChristmasAwka, Nigeria – Now living in Nigeria, I knew I wanted to take some time to see my grandmother and others on my mom’s side. It wasn’t the same gathering as we had in 2012, but a few cousins came home when they knew I was in town. We had all the Christmas traditions I recognized in my own house, including making chin-chin and going to midnight Mass. It was an extremely quiet and peaceful Christmas – exactly what I wanted.

New Year Ilorin, Nigeria – My cousins and I went to Crossover Mass that brought in the New Year. It ended up being an almost 4 hour Mass with a 1.5hr homily by the bishop. I fought a losing battle with sleep the whole night but was happy to bring in the New Year surrounded by so much hope and faith.

BirthdayIlorin, Nigeria – Like I said, this year has been one of the best thus far and it’s only because my own perspective has changed so much. I went to sleep around 1am with birthday wishes already coming in from Australia then woke up to a full day of events orchestrated by my cousin and aunt. I had a full face of make-up done and then went to a photographer for insanely gorgeous photos. I came home to a beautiful birthday cake and calls and messages from around Nigeria and Europe. In the evening I went to get drinks with my cousin and a new friend and then came home to birthday messages from the US. I woke up the next day with a few more messages from the western part of the US and those catching on. The amount of love pouring in from around the world filled my heart to the brim. Now I just need to get to work thanking everyone and spending this year returning it 10 fold.


Looking back, as amazing and fun as all these memories are, my favorite part is seeing how much I’ve grown and seeing the things that haven’t changed. I’ve learned so much about myself and the world, become braver and continue to seek out opportunities, experiences and connections that make me grow as an individual and bring me closer to my purpose. And through all the ups and downs, the heartache and the growth, I have a family that is solid as a rock and deeper than the oldest tree and amazing friends that stand by me throughout.

“Always take a step back to make sure all the stress you are putting yourself through is worth the outcome.”

I think that during the holidays and our birthdays, it’s easy to get caught up in all the little details that make it successful. Or even the stress and money that goes into pulling it off. While it’s hard to just turn those emotions off, it’s also important to stay in tune with what’s really important. Always take a step back to make sure all the stress you are putting yourself through is worth the outcome (whether it’s celebrating with family or having an event that will make you happy). And above all, take time to reflect on and appreciate all the little things in your life that are worth celebrating during the holidays and when you mark another year of life.

“And above all, take time to reflect on and appreciate all the little things in your life that are worth celebrating during the holidays and when you mark another year of life.”

How do you typically celebrate the holidays or your birthday?

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2 Comments

  • Reply Nana January 13, 2017 at 06:50

    This was such an exciting read! It’s so crazy to think of all these amazing places you’ve been, the memories you’ve created, the connections you’ve made and all the growth which has come with them! Can I be like you when I grow up?! But I’m so excited to see everything that you do in this 24th year of your life! Oh and that perspective is everything, major key alert lol

    • Reply Omolayo Nkem May 4, 2017 at 07:17

      Awwwww!! Thanks so much! That’s so funny because I want to be like YOU when I grow up! And it’s been great to have amazing friends like you along that journey. πŸ˜‰

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