A Tongan Christmas

Imagine sitting on a beautiful beach in the South Pacific, palm trees waving freely in the wind, freshly caught fish simmering over an open fire, waves gently caressing the white sand beaches and drinking wine as the sun sets over the sparkling blue water. That pretty much summarizes how I spent most of my Christmas Day in Tonga. I wasn’t sure exactly what to expect for my first Christmas here in the Kingdom but knew it would be different than any Christmas I’ve celebrated in the past.

My first clue that we were in for something different happened as Justin and I were riding to the village of Fuu’amoto with our home stay family. As we entered the village, Tau did not take the turn to the house and instead took the road to the beach. At no point had he mentioned we were going to the beach. As we started the drive down to the shore, he told us they had camped at the beach last night (Christmas Eve) and that everyone was already there. We drove to the grave of his father, which is next to the ocean and found a home away from home. Two tents, a grill, gas stove, and most of the extended family. The kids were in the water swimming and everyone else was just kind of hanging out.

There didn’t seem to be anything unusual to me about camping next to the grave of Tau’s father and his mother was there with us. Justin and I took a nice walk through the tropical blue ocean out to the reef, something you can only do at low tide. We drank juice made from freshly picked pineapple and coconut milk and eagerly watched as Tau’s brother turned a spit holding a freshly killed pig over an open fire. Dinner time came and we "pigged" out. I had not eaten much, an orange for breakfast and a couple of bananas for lunch so I was very hungry. In addition to the freshly roasted pig, we had BBQ chicken, first snapper that Tau had caught earlier in the day, crab and raw fish. Quite a feast and what a beautiful place to relax on Christmas.

After dinner, we watched the sunset and started drinking wine. I was actually surprised by the presence of the wine. It was the first time I had seen any of the people there take a drink. It was also time to turn on the generator. Yes, an electric generator. They had decorated the grave of their father in Christmas lights and brought a generator to power the lights.

As the sky grew darker, out came the fireworks. The kids were running around, holding Roman Candles and bottle rockets in their hands, setting off firecrackers and generally having a great time. Now imagine this…the oldest kid who was there was 11. Everyone else was younger and at first I couldn’t believe that they were allowed to handle the fireworks with no adult supervision. However, they didn’t do anything stupid and no one got hurt.

After a couple hours of fireworks, it was time for Santa Claus. Santa “Sia” gathered all the kids on a mat on the ground and handed each a gift. Nothing fancy or elaborate, but everyone got something. Tevita, the three year old, got a bag of Cheetos, which he quickly devoured.

A few more fireworks and then Sia asked us if we were ready to go back to the house. Justin and I said we would be happy to stay with the family and camp at the beach instead of going back to the empty house. There was a gentle ocean breeze keeping everything cool and we were really enjoying ourselves. However, we didn’t really rough it. Sia made up our “rooms” in the tent with a mattress covered in a sheet, a pillow and a top sheet. I don’t know what time we went to bed, but we got up very early the next morning with Sia calling our names before 7am.

It was really a very memorable Christmas and as I was riding back to my house, it occurred to me how completely comfortable I had felt. The Tupou family has really made us feel like part of their family. I know enough Tongan to be able to pick up on what is being said and they also know English pretty well. I knew the names of all the kids, just like I might at my own family gathering and it was great fun to play with them and to see the joy in their eyes as they received their Christmas gifts. Christmas in Tonga is a day to spend with family and friends and that’s exactly what we did.

***Other News***
I finally figured out how to upload video to the blog. Here’s a short video from Saturday of Craig playing Santa Claus and not getting the best reaction from a Tongan boy.

There are new photos of our Christmas celebration in the online album.

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  1. Keep up the interesting writing. I look forward to your updates. What a unique Christmas experience. Happy New Year.

    Stan's Mom