Wednesday, December 26, 2007

A Samoan Christmas


Christmas in the U.S. is one of those monumental times. It is as if most of what we cherish is compacted into the holiday season. Christmas is an outpouring of generosity, love, and religious affirmation. It is hard to conceive a different Christmas than one’s own. Yet in Samoa, probably one of the most religious Christian nations on earth, Christmas seems very different.

Christmas is an important day here, too. Most of the churches have a Christmas Eve service, or one on Christmas Day. Catholics have both. However, with all the regular church services and daily prayer curfews, Christmas doesn’t have the religious fervor as in the U.S. It even seems muted and less attended in comparison to a regular Sunday service.

Christmas is the time for Samoan families to get together. Many Samoans living overseas visit their relatives now, probably because they can get time off and children are on break between school years. The roads become hazardous as foreigners in rented SUVs speed along the narrow and twisting roads. These alien visitors seem to always be in a hurry. Taxi drivers too rush to keep up with the bonanza of additional fares. What overseas relatives bring is cash and presents to replenish family members coffers. For Samoans, a relative living overseas is expected to help support those who live here.

There is little, if any, gift giving. White Sunday, the holiday for children in October, is the prime time for presents and new clothes. (I gave the children in our family Power Bars, sent to me by my daughter Teri. They were quickly eaten.) Some kids in other families got new plastic noise making submachine guns, a popular toy anywhere.

Christmas Eve is quiet and still. I mean really quiet. It is as if everyone is asleep or napping getting ready for midnight. Around 11:00 pm people begin to migrate to the road. In the distance is singing. As the sounds come closer, the music is from a group dressed in white shepard outfits. Later I find out the choir is made up a singers from all of Iva’s churches.

As for lights and decorations, a few houses have them. The village lights do blink on and off throughout the night due to several power failures caused by thunderstorms.

At midnight, one church rings its bell, people wish each other a Merry Christmas, air kiss one another on the cheek and head back to their homes to sit, talk, play cards, or go to sleep. I wait for the much rumored partying to begin. Alas, I can hear the clinking of a few beer bottles coming from dark places. Where is the all night partying and dancing in the streets? Maybe more is happening than I realize or I am not invited. Maybe the partying takes place on New Years.

At dawn on Christmas Day, people are out picking up the leaves which had fallen during the night before. They actually do this every day. It is still very quiet.

The storms during the night prevent my host family and me from going to the Catholic Christmas Eve service. They go to the Sunday morning service in another village. Not wanting people to think that without Mary I am on the road to perdition, I dress in my church outfit and walk across the village to the church du jour, this time the Assembly of God, only to find out they have only one Christmas service and that is on Christmas Eve. I hang my head in shame and walk back home. With this extra time, I make myself four cups of coffee and am juiced up for the rest of the day.

The big Christmas meal after returning from church has my favorites. There is a dish made up of fried pig’s lungs, heart, liver, and kidney with onion and laau pele (like spinach), another dish of chopped up chicken in a rice and noodle sauce, yet another dish of mutton flaps in a curried sauce with fresh green beans, and a side order of boiled breadfruit (see what you’re missing, Mary). In the Samoan tradition of reciprocity, I give the family a stick of imported Italian salami (hope you understand, Teri). Since we are always served first, with the best, and with more food than we can possibly eat. The uneaten portions are returned for the family children.

As the day progresses, volleyball games began in the hot sun; family members gather to be with each other. I bike to the Peace Corps office where I know I have access to the computer (no buses for the others to travel) to make this blog entry for anyone to read. It is now time to bike back and rest.

Wherever and with whomever you may be, may this holiday time be a reminder to the entire small planet we inhabit and the importance of one another.

Merry Christmas.

1 comment:

Barb Carusillo said...

I just wanted to tell you that I think your blog is fascinating. I have been reading many of the blogs from PVCs there since my daughter and son-in-law are in Group 79. I have become fascinated with all things Samoan because of it. Your perspective is in depth and reflects such a deep background of experience...much more accepting and philosophical as well. I will be staying tuned to this channel!
My husband and I hope to visit our progeny while they are there, so this information should help us out.