21 December 2012

Christmas, the third

This year's Christmas decorations are out of strips of coloured paper
Christmas has come around again, marked by a steady emptying out of the city as people visit family and friends around Tonga and abroad. Nuku'alofa in the middle of summer Christmas looks like any other time of year, but hotter and emptier. For us, Christmas here has always been a rather sad time. Most of our friends here have already gone abroad for the holidays, there are few decorations in the city, and not many Christmas events other than the occasional choir night. Even in most churches, the season is mostly just another day of normal service with occasional Christmas songs. It's just not as big of a deal here as in most other places I've been. That is why, this year, I wanted to make Christmas into a big deal - at least as much as I could with friends, decorations, and food. In part, all this is a celebration for making it through an incredibly difficult year.

I also made decorations for my office: wreathes made entirely out of recycled paper - and a little tape
At the beginning of the year, we got broken into. Nothing was ever recovered. Then the hard news of the passing away of a member of my family we'd been very close to, while we were here in Tonga without the ability to fly back. I found it difficult to keep a stiff upper lip when going into work in the mornings. Immediately after, a restructure was announced at my office, in which almost everyone except me was notified they'd be losing their job, effectively drawing a circle of solidarity from which I was naturally excluded. No smiles in the office for the several months it was being debated, and then thanks to hard work by the senior leadership at the office, almost everyone was told they'd be keeping their jobs after all, after months of a general atmosphere of panic and depression. Fortunately, it made us all a lot closer, after the drama of the announcement.

Office Christmas window hangings made out of the same recycled paper as the wreathes
Then the King died, and we all went into mourning, first for three months, then announced for just a couple of days. Midway through the year, the three people who had given up their positions in my organization's restructure announced their leaving dates, the first being a close colleague and friend of mine as we all said our farewells. My brother Asa's visit was a wonderful thing we enjoyed, with the fun and exhausting work of being friend, family, and mentor for the time he was here. Around that part of the year, then one of Mark's close family started battling with a serious illness, and we frantically checked our budget to try to make a hard decision of whether to come back to visit.

Paper worked best for wreathes: it was easy to get and lasts longer than the plants available here
At the same time, a major project of mine at work, one that comprises the majority of my job, stalled out of my control for month after month, and I tried to do everything I could to reassure the waning trust of the people whose plans and jobs depended on this project. We took a much-needed break to nearby Australia, and discovered that because of a technical error, Mark couldn't take one of the major academic tests he'd arranged to do while there. Nearing the end of the year, the latest group of Peace Corps volunteers left the country after completing their service, and with them more friends of ours.

Our tree at home, with paper and salt paste ornaments
Now it's the end of the year, and with a sigh of relief, things are starting to look up. We can remember the great things that happened during the year, like the Kermadec show, Asa's visit, and our recent trip to Australia. The project I was coordinating at work has finally been cleared to move forward as of January, and Mark just recieved notice that he passed the internationally recognized DELF French test he'd been studying for. There is a lot to celebrate.

And so, man are we are celebrating. We've been scouring the town and saving up for a Christmas feast. I've been gathering my recipes for braised leg of lamb, creamy mashed potatoes, pumpkin pie, eggnogg, yorkshire pudding, and spritz cookies. I made decorations and hung them all around my office, and we spent several afternoons putting up a tree at our house. To a year done, to friends well-met and farewelled, to Christmas 2012.

The full tree on our living room wall


  1. Thank you for the Christmas Letter.
    Hugs to you and Mark!
    Wishing you God's best for 2013.

    Merry Christmas

    Don & Linda Watson

  2. We've also had a year of loss. I'm glad for your Christmas celebrations though. We're hosting with all the usual stuff. Merry Christmas!

  3. hugs! love the wreaths and the tree, and your determination to remember that hope prevails even in the midst of darkness. lots of love to you and Mark, and all my wishes for a calmer, more joyful 2013. merry Christmas!

  4. I hope you guys had a wonderful Christmas! Wishing you all the best in 2013.


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