25 Dec Christmas in Samoa
A few days late – but better late than never!
Last night was Christmas Eve. The house was filled with the sounds of children playing as the Fab5 had their cousins over who are visiting from New Zealand. We talked a lot, laughed real loud, drank too much Diet Coke and ate way too many brownies and Doritos. After the cousins left, we did last minute gift wrapping and I was snapping at the children to get the place cleaned up before they snuck off to bed. “I dont care if its almost midnight – go fold that laundry y’hear me!!”
Then we heard singing from the front. A choir from the church up the road, all dressed in white and carrying candles and lanterns, singing Samoan hymns as they walked in two lines under the starry sky. Hymns of worship, hymns of praise.
Just like that, all the rush and busyness and angst was gone. Replaced with a feeling of peace and immense gratitude. For the gift of the Saviour Jesus Christ and the celebration of his birth. For my family, for the blessing of being in our new home (so what if its unfinished), for the gift of living in Samoa and the opportunity to raise our children here.
I sat in the shadows and listened until the very last notes trailed away, until the choir was long out of sight – and thought about many Christmases past, growing up in Samoa….
1. Back when Christmas lights were rare and we knew where every house was that had any. Our Dad taking us for a drive ‘to see lights’, sitting in the back of the pickup truck with the wind in your face, eyes eagerly scanning for sparkly color. The prize for #BestestLights going to the family with the MASSIVE pine tree draped with lights, across the road from the old St.Josephs school.
2. My mum’s Christmas baking. Sio grating fresh popo for her coconut cookies, outside the back door with chickens scratching for stray flecks of white salty-sweetness. The house filled with the smell of caramelized sugar and vanilla. Us kids hanging around, offering to “help stir” so we could stick our fingers in the bowl and swipe a taste of chocolate chip cookie dough batter. Her swatting at our hands and yelling for us to get out of her kitchen. Us hoping she would mess up and burn a few of the peanut brownies, hoping the Louise Squares wouldn’t lift out of the pan properly – so then we could eat all the rejects.
3. Christmas gift deliveries. My big brother sent to cut branches off the pine tree because he was the tallest. Helping to carry the prickly greenery to the kitchen where my mum would use it to decorate trays of cookies, cinnamon rolls and banana pumpkin loaves. Tying on ribbons of gold and red – which she would promptly re-tie because “your bows are dreadful!” Going in the car to deliver the treats to family, friends and total strangers. The Bishop, Papa, cousins, the couple at the little corner store “because they make such good bread”, the new family at church “because the woman looks sad and I think she’s having a hard time adjusting to Samoa”. One year we took cookies to the house with the massive Christmas tree lights. Even though they had no clue who we were. “Because they make many people happy with their lights.”
4. A creaky wooden bus filled to bursting with carolers dressed in Sunday white. Stopping at our house after midnight to sing Samoan hymns.
5. The radio playing non-stop Vengaboys Christmas songs. Boney M. Feliz Navidad trumpeting from every bus.
6. The hollow BOOM of faga ofe in the night.
7. Christmas to’onai at my grandfather’s house. Uncles, aunts and cousins. Cardboard boxes of ice cream. Chocolate self-saucing cake. Pisupo and taro. Avoiding Papa’s surly unpredictable dog Hero. Playing on the steel swing set and searching for guppies in the murky dead water of the Vaipe.
8. Visiting great-aunty Ita. Her face lighting up to see us. The feel of her velvet soft wrinkled cheek against my face as she tugs me close for a hug. Thick slabs of puligi on a tin plate. Ripe misiluki bananas from the bunch hanging outside the back door.
9. Papa sitting in his armchair solemnly accepting his presents from us. Stacking wrapped packages on the table beside him but never unwrapping them. My awed puzzlement at how he could stand NOT opening his presents. Many years later, seeing still-wrapped gifts stored in his bedroom.
10. The snap and crack of toy cap pistols. The acrid windings of smoke from the rolls of red paper pellets.
11. Putting up our Christmas tree. Reciting the history of each ornament, arguing about which one belonged to us from the collection of fragile decorations, as our mum bought us each a new one every year.
12. Planning and practising for a family nativity play – which never happens because me and my little sisters inevitably have a fight and somebody quits. Laughing about it every year since then.
13. My little sister buying me lolesaiga one year and wrapping them for under the tree. Then getting mad at me and unwrapping them again so she could eat one…or two. Then rewrapping them.
14. Going to the neighborhood freshwater spring with all my cousins and uncles after the big Christmas toonai. Ice cold relief from the sticky heat of the day. Big boss women yelling at us to stop making so much noise and splashing too much. Walking home wet, rubber seevae kosokoso making loud squelching sounds on the hot tar seal road.
15. Mum making her legendary fruitcake, redolent with so much alcohol that going into the kitchen is an intoxicating experience. All us kids having a turn to stir the thick batter and make a wish.
16. The scarlet fire of the flame trees in bloom all over town.
17. Huffy-puffy donuts glazed and sticky sweet. Made by Helen Atoa and delivered hot and delicious, Merry Christmas.
18. Pineapple season. Hating having to cut and peel them, digging out the prickly scabbed skin. Resentfully. But loving the chilled sweet taste of them.
19. Walking all over town with $20, in search of enough gifts for seven people.
20. A choir from the church up the road, all dressed in white and carrying candles and lanterns, singing Samoan hymns as they walk past our house, under the starry sky. Hymns of worship, hymns of praise.
Manuia le Kerisimasi from Samoa.
What are some of your fave Christmas memories?