Christmas Eve in Tonga

Living in Tonga it is hard to believe that it is almost Christmas. It has little to do with the warm, make that hot, tropical weather but the complete lack of Christmas commercialization here. There are no advertisements promoting last minute Christmas sales and no obvious indication in the shops that Christmas is just about here. But make no mistake, this is a very Christian country and Christmas will be celebrated in a big way. We've heard it has been impossible to get a seat on an airplane to Tonga because so many of the Tongans that live overseas are coming home for the holidays. There are Christmas trees (all fake trees) and some homes have outside Christmas lights. For most, Christmas will be a day to spend with family and friends at their homes.

Friday night was the Christmas party for the bank where I work. I went with Craig, who is a Peace Corps volunteer who has been working at the bank for more than a year. We were told it was a dress up occasion so Craig and I both wore long pants, a dress shirt and a tie. Craig also wore a jacket. (I didn’t bring one with me.) We walked in and saw people in t-shirts, jeans and very casual attire. We were the most over-dressed people there. But it didn’t really matter and we had a great time. They even introduced me so that everyone would know me. Of course, since I was one of just two guys in the place with a tie, I wasn’t hard to spot.

On Saturday, Craig played Santa at a fair in Nuku’alofa. They told him they wanted him to do it because Santa is “white”. I thought that was kind of interesting because who says Santa couldn’t be Tongan.

The Christmas holiday is officially a two day holiday in Tonga with the holiday on the 25h and Boxing Day on the 26th. However, for schools, many government agencies and businesses the celebration of Christmas can last for more than a week before the holiday and stretch into the New Year. Tonga is the first place in the world to welcome every day since we sit just west of the International Dateline. That means we are the first to celebrate Christmas and will be the first place to welcome 2008 on New Year’s Eve.

***Other News***
As you might expect things were pretty slow for me my first week at work. While the bank is open, many of the bank employees were not there last week. Once I complete my work here, I’ll be moving to the Vava’u branch around the first of March. Current Volunteer Craig has designed a lot of the programs the bank uses to advise small businesses here in Tonga. Since it is a development bank, the bank’s roles is not just to provide the loans, but to make sure the businesses are successful. A lot of this is done in workshops conducted for anyone who wants to attend and in one-on-one consultation with the business owners. Interestingly, one a business becomes successful; it will often leave the development bank and move to one of the three commercial banks since they offer a full range of banking services not offered by the Development Bank. I’m looking forward to getting out and working with the businesses and prospective businesses once the holidays are over.

There are a few new photos including one of a Tongan kid sitting in Santa "Craig's" lap wearing a Florida State Seminoles shirt. Of course, true Seminole fans will notice there is a slight problem with the shirt. It happens to be in Blue and White. See even here in Tonga you find FSU fans.

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