25 December 2010


Yesterday was the Sabbath, and today is the Sabbath too. Yesterday was our Christmas, but today is Christmas too, a hot, muggy sweaty one with no Christmas lights, caroling, or gift-giving. Yes, Christmas in Tonga to us foreigners is somewhat of a paradox...
Making pumpkin pies

Christmas is not as big of a deal here as it is many places elsewhere, but it is a time for huge family reunions, good eating, and a summer break off of work. It is quite refreshing not to be bombarded with Christmas advertisements, shopping sales, and the general Christmas mania that takes over many other parts of the world.

But, we did see Christmas mania in the sheer amount of people coming in to Tonga for the holidays. So many families have significant numbers of family members in New Zealand, Australia, the US, or somewhere else in the world, and most people make a huge effort to come back home for Christmas. Flights into Tonga were packed for the last several days, and it felt like Tonga's population doubled and had all decided to be out in the streets on Christmas eve, as everyone rushed around doing last minute grocery shopping.

Our own Christmas dinner on Christmas eve
On the evening of Christmas eve, many people went to a Christmas eve special church service, where the Sunday schools usually show off their "action songs," choral pieces, and drama. Only kids usually get presents at Christmas, and only at this special service, where names are called out and near-identical boxes of cookies, candy, and chips are given to each kid. Sometimes parents will contribute something, and sometimes just the church itself will prepare the boxes.

Although we went to the Christmas eve service last year in 'Eua, we stayed home this year because we had just gotten back from New Zealand that very day. Instead, we made ourselves a comically huge Christmas meal: roast duck with red wine and apricot sauce, garlic mashed potatoes, apricot stuffing, red wine cocoa gravy, spinach with onions and blue cheese, a fresh salad, pumpkin pie, and finally a dried fruit and raisin pecan-almond pie with a layer of chocolate in it - a weird and delicious pie of my own creation - gourmet food using a number of special ingredients we'd gotten in recent care packages and in NZ.
Stomach pictures

We had just gotten back from New Zealand (again) on Christmas eve because Peace Corps decided to fly me there for some tests to check out some ongoing stomach pain and digestive problems I've been having. We were there for three days, and I got every kind of test done, including getting pictures of the inside of my stomach taken! Needless to say, I didn't eat much of our Christmas dinner. It looks like I'll be going back for several more tests in mid-January as well - it's good we liked New Zealand so much!

Neighbor kids playing in the rain
Unlike traditions from the US, Christmas day itself here is much like any other Sunday: church, a big meal, and then sleep. The crowd is just a little larger, the food a little more plentiful; but people usually don't have any specific foods they eat on Christmas, or particular family activities like decorating cookies or watching Christmas films. Many families do go to the beach around holiday time seeing as the weather is gorgeous, hot, and sunny, but Christmas day itself counts as a Sabbath. People have different opinions on what is allowed on the Sabbath, but at its most stringent, it generally prohibits going to the beach, swimming, exercising, playing games, or doing work other than cooking on that day.

Roast pork, lu, and breadfruit- yum!
Christmas for us dawned with torrential thundering tropical rain, and after a delightful three-continent Skype chat with family, we caught a ride over to some friends' house for Christmas dinner for a delicious meal with them and their extended family: lu (taro leaves wrapped around meat, baked in coconut milk), mouth-watering suckling pig, breadfruit, chicken teriyaki, a mayonnaise salad, and orange ice cream, watermelon, and pumpkin pie we brought for desert. We sat around and talked for a while while the kids played on their grandparents' trampoline (ok, ok, we played on it too), and then it was time for the island-wide Sabbath past time: sleep.
Soccer stars on the trampoline

Later that evening, we went with a Peace Corps volunteer friend to some other friends' house and decorated Christmas cookies, watched Elf, and then Harry Potter 5, two good Christmas movies...

Christmas is always hard to be away from family and all the traditions and memories that we all build up each year- and so this year didn't quite feel fully like Christmas. But we certainly had fun with our adopted families here, and with mixing our own Christmas traditions with some new ones from Tonga.

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