The best Christmas ever….
Growing up we would always have a pretty normal Christmas. Not doing much for Christmas eve, except for sometimes getting a last minute Christmas tree, (My family is notoriously known for being probably the last one to get a tree.) or doing some last minute decorating with whoever was coming in for the holiday from college or for some other reason, or better yet doing our last minute Christmas shopping. The Christmas shopping always happened with at least one person who was slacking because they did not wait to head to the crazy shopping malls of New York, so they waited until the last minute to buy something, when of course they malls were the worst. (Shopping lines of dozens of people and waiting for an hour to buy one little item is not my idea of a good time!) Last year me and my siblings hung out for hours in my sister’s bedroom putting the finishing touches on the gift for our parents as we realized that mom would not complain and ask us to return a gift that was homemade and not from the department store. We usually did things as a family nonetheless, playing cards and just spending time together.
On Christmas day we always had out little silly traditions. We would wake up our parents early in the morning, even as we grew older, my brother still continues this tradition as he anxiously awaits opening his gifts. We all stay upstairs in our pajamas while our parents go downstairs to prepare for our arrival. I remember being little and trying to grab a sneak peak of what everything looks like under the tree. Hoping to hear the silly little tunes of our musical Christmas tree lights. Dad sets up the video camera, and mom takes reins on the regular camera so they are able to act as a team to capture our every movement. The music from the radio, record player, and as we grew up and technologies advanced a cd player is turned on to a jolly Christmas song.
My brother and sister and I make sure our slippers are tightly secured as we don’t want the embarrassment of a trip or a small slip down the stairs. We line up in age order, and begin doing a silly little dance slowly down the stairs, stopping at the landing so we can “oooh and ahhh” at the sight of all the gifts under the Christmas tree. It always looked so magical, even when we had our little Charlie Brown trees that looked like our heavy ornaments were ready to take down the tree before you knew what would hit you. We then quickened our step as we knew what awaits.
My parents usually sat on the couch, or a nearby chair as they seemed to enjoy us looking like birds scavenge around to find the amazing treats that await. We pass the wrapped boxes to whoever the sharpie name says they go to. My brother used to be excited when he received a toy in his set as he was always anxious to get the elusive whole collection of something. We make a pile for my parents and beg repeatedly for them to open their present so they can see they silly things we made for them, and they always refuse and wait for us to finish. My mom always insists she is given the wrong thing, especially from my dad, and makes a point of asking him to return it, while she has a silly sad look on her face. (This is probably why my dad struggles so much with finding the ideal gift for her each year and waits for the last minute.) My dad always insists that he doesn’t need anything and we shouldn’t have wasted our money on him. (I’m sure he probably said this based upon the really ugly ties we would pick up for him on our many trips to Chinatown. Us kids were probably the cause for him not enjoying the gift giving…one too many bad ties!)
We would then head to the kitchen while dad made delicious pancakes (usually chocolate chip). We then spent the rest of the day playing with our new toys and relaxing. Sometimes we would make the trip to Yonkers to visit my aunt Ann and Uncle Guy, but we usually made the trip before the holiday, as traffic was always an issue and my mother would rush us so we would not be late. That combination made it difficult for us to travel on holidays, especially when we were young children.
Christmas day in Samoa we were told is nothing like it is in America. When we first arrived here in October all we would hear from everyone’s blasting stereo was Christmas jingles, usually mixed with a dance beat, or a random hip hop song, or something else that seemed a little off to an outsider. We all assumed that Christmas was a big holiday because of the big lead up to it.
When asking around what people did on this holiday it seemed different than our expectations. Some of the Peace Corps volunteers told me that they people in their villages did not go to church, and would spend their afternoon playing volleyball in their malae. The real holiday was on Christmas eve in which everyone went to church and a performance by the youth took place with singing, dancing and acting.
Talking too people in Foailuga, it seemed as though my village was an exception to the rule. I had heard rumor that they would be pese ma savavali (caroling) on Christmas eve put on by the Methodist Church. Since I was spending so much time with that church because of their youth group, I should be able to invite myself. Otherwise I knew that on Christmas day we would be performing our dances, and volleyball would be taking place. So as you can tell I was expecting a laid back holiday, as is the life here in Samoa. (I knew it would especially be different because I was living with a family that was a Seventh Day Adventist, so they did not celebrate this holiday.) Leading up to this day I saw maybe a dozen families with either a Christmas tree or Christmas lights strung about. My favorite was several glass ball ornaments on a little tree outside the family’s home.
We started Christmas eve evening by going to Sagone, a nearby village where my tama was helping with their Christmas program. His family is from that nu’u so he still feels very connected to his roots there. It was to be similar to our upcoming performance as the skit would be the same. Nevertheless, it was something to do so I tagged along on the outing.
My borther Iosefa (Joseph) drove us since it was already dark. We saw some of the youth group dances which were amazing. It is great to see how awesome people can choreograph their own dances. They always pick up beat fun music that just makes you happy to be around them. Then the skits started and I recognized the songs and dances that I would take place in the following day. After hour about 3, the baby was tired, and so was I (of seeing the performances). So we headed home.
As we headed to the laolao (table) to eat I heard the banging of the canoe at the Methodist Church to call everyone to go caroling. I threw the food into my mouth as quickly as I could and changed into my church white clothes. I left in such a rush that I forgot to bring a white piece of cloth to cover my head. Apparently we were to dress like the Arabs or something. I honestly do not know enough about the bible to understand the reference, especially when it was pretty much explained to me in Samoan and broken English.
In movies I have always enjoyed seeing people caroling and secretly wished I was in their shoes. It always looked so beautiful seeing people go around in the snow with their song books and singing songs that made them sound so angelic. I have never been a singer, and in fact I consider myself to be one of the worst in most situations. But the thought of caroling still seemed like the perfect way to celebrate the holidays.
I got to the church hall and everyone seemed happy that I got the information on the coconut wireless to come and join in on their festivities. I came prepared with my flashlight as I normally travel in the evenings with it as I am always nervous for tripping on the several massive holes on the road. They were quick to invite me to attend church in the morning with them. When I inquired about the time I was given several different answers. They told me answers anytime from 6 a.m. to 9:00 a.m.. The clear consistency was just go when the church bells ring.
We headed down the road to Satuiatua. I was giggling at the excitement that was to await me. It is an incredible experience being a part of a group of at least fifty people on the road all dressed in white with white things covering their heads (although I do have to admit, at one point I did get an image of the Klu Klux Klan). We got into formation. They put me in the front of one of the lines, as everyone seems to normally do. (It doesn’t seem to bother them about my lack of staying on key for singing, as they are just thrilled to have me join them in their daily experiences.) We went to a house that I assume is the faife’au (pastor)’s house. Him and his family greeted us with a prayer and money to thank us for coming by with our song. We continued down the road everyone singing the songs out of memory. Thankfully someone had the vi’iga (hymn) book for me to look on with a flashlight. I always thought reading and walking was difficult. Imagine walking, reading by flashlight, singing all in the dark. I felt so horrible for the person in front of me as I continuously was stepping on their heels.
We stopped at different houses who had their lights on and were out to greet us. They all thanked us for our angelic voices, gave a prayer, and then money of course. We went past our nu’u and onto Foailalo, the village on the other side of us. Everyone in our group was smiling and laughing the entire time. At close to midnight we headed back to the church hall.
Someone gave a speech about how amazing we did, and others reminded me to attend the morning service. I ended up getting home after midnight. (What a late night for being in Samoa.) I knew I would have to set my alarm clock otherwise awake in the morning.
I awoke bright and early in the morning and immediately heard the church bells ringing. I quickly put on my white puletasi and headed down the road to church. Some of the people that have been dancing with me took me by the hand and guided me towards the front to sit with them as I could also sing along from their vi’iga book. It was the first time I went to church on Christmas and it was a good experience. It was really nice to see how it brought the community together. Even though there are four different churches in the village, it was nice to see a gathering of well over a hundred people for this holiday.
After church I headed home for a huge delicious breakfast and a nice malolo (rest). It began to rain and everyone thought all of the games were going to be off as people do not want to be out in the rain, and for most of the day that was the case.
In the afternoon I headed out to my dance practice for the evening’s program. Me still not understanding how time works here, showed up when they told me to, and I was very late. They told me that we would be leaving for the performance at 3:30 in the afternoon so we should arrive dressed.
I headed with a few of the others to the malae to watch and play volleyball. Not playing volleyball in years has made me one of the worst players in the world. I think I constantly hit the ball with my face more than my actual arms. I knew there was not much time so I left without playing much there.
I ate quickly as I did not know how long that evening would last and when my next meal would come. I walked over to where we were supposed to meet for the day. I hung out with the people who lived there as they hung around the house….not getting ready. 4:00 came and went. 4:30 still nothing. Around 5:00 the family began taking bucket showers outside and others began to trickle in. Around 5:45 most of my group had shown up. They decorated a pickup truck and two of the girls in my group dressed in traditional clothes while 2 men also did as their protectors and they were loaded into the bed of the truck. Then the engine started.
Someone had the tin from the tin of a massive container of crackers and a stick to bang a beat on. Another group of boys had a log to do the same with. My group began singing as we marched down the road.
Growing up I loved to go to all the parades of New York City. I always begged my parents to go to the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade and because of my mother’s need to be everywhere early, we would be able to go often since I could argue that it was on the way to Yonkers. I even enjoyed going to the little Staten Island parades as they were entertaining in their own ways. Whenever I visit a different city, if there is a parade going on, I love to attend it to see the excitement and thrill of that town. Nevertheless, out of all the places I’ve been to, Macy’s steals the cake as one of the best parades. However, the people from Macy’s should come to Samoa as they have some competition to stay on top!
The group grew in intensity as we went down our rocky road. We marched past the church and headed towards the end of town sparkling in our matching uniforms, not caring about the rain that began to pour down. If anything, the rain made my group grow in intensity. When we reached the end of our nu’u, we headed back toward the church hall where we marched in circles around the parking lot singing many songs in harmony as we have a little dance in each step. A little while later the other group followed in a traditional manner. It was amazing to see how enthusiastic every single person in the youth group was. We then awaited inside the building for the program to start.
After the traditional lotu (prayer), the groups took turns doing dances. The red group went first and they were fantastic in every move they made. They all seemed like they have been practicing for hours daily because they were completely in sync. After two dances, I was told to get ready…
The leader of our group told me to go to the front of the group, not where I have been practicing. And then the song started… and I realized that the put me in the song that I had not been practicing as they told me they were already full. I tried mimicking everyone’s moves, and at least I had everyone laughing. No one seemed to be disappointed with my amazing moves. For the next song they pressed me into standing in the front of the group again. Again, not the place I was practicing. It was okay because it seemed as though everyone enjoyed it.
While I was dancing I began to realize how some dancers felt. When people like your dance moves they either put money into a bowl or put money physically on you. Many times I would have people rearrange my hair so they can put some tala inside it. Other times I would have to stop my amazing dance moves for someone putting tala inside my shirt.
The night went on with more and more amazing dance moves. I did the boys dance, the hula, the sasa and had a growing laughter each time I made my way onto the dance floor. I did not disappoint anyone in my own point of view. We continued on with our skits and other little songs. They added a new part for me in the skit in which I had to give a banana tree to someone, and so it was a shock to learn about this during the skit. The funniest point of the night was several of the boys in the other group dressed like girls and did several dances to songs like Grease and Mama Mia and other funny songs. They also did a Backstreet Boys routine.
Afterwards the night was a success. It was about 11 at night, and I was super tired. We were thanked for our performance, sadly they did not declare a winner for our dance off. (But I knew my group would probably be it, as they had me in their group.) We were given some buttered bread and I was presented with a pie as a thank you for joining their youth group. I started to head home and asked others where they were off to, and they said they were also going home. I was excited that I did not have to worry about missing any of the after performance party as I was exhausted from the day.
I went home and headed straight to bed happy as can be that the Christmas was such a great success.
The next day I learned that the rest of my group was looking for me at night because they were having a team dinner to celebrate their wonderful performance….if only I was in touch with the Samoan ways to know when going home means actually going home.
It is such a hard thing to first understand the language and then to be able to interpret if what they say actually means what it actually literally means. We were told during our training classes that yes does not always mean yes and I understand that to an extent. But it will take some time to understand when a Samoan means what they say. Maybe by the time I actually leave I will start to understand this…but who knows!