This will likely be an earnest, though potentially infrequently updated, account of my adventures, tribulations,
and everyday experiences as I spend two years working as an environmental Peace Corps volunteer in Fiji

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Do They Celebrate Christmas in Fiji?

Why yes, they do.

The largest religion in Fiji is Christian (the second being Hinduism) and the largest denomination of which is Methodist. Every village has a church that everyone attends every Sunday and sometimes other days of the week as well.

Do they celebrate Hanukah?
            No, most Fijians have never even heard that term before and I think that most of their exposure to Judaism is through foreign volunteers.
            I visited another PCVs village during Hanukah where a group of us fried up a bucket of latkas (made with cassava instead of potato) with apple sauce to dip and some jelly donuts (stuffed with banana jam) and shared it with some of the villagers as a cross-cultural/religious event. They loved the food and my friend was even able to tell the story of Hanukah in Fijian!

We also baked a pumpkin pie on the stove top…but that was just for us.

The crust we made from mashed bread fruit, which tasted pretty good but took far too long to cook.
 
Do you string up coconut trees with Christmas lights?                  
            You mean like the Corona commercial? Well, first of all, have you ever actually seen a mature coconut tree? Like, in real life? Most of them are absurdly tall even with a lopsided direction of growth (which most of them have-maybe from the wind?). There are no branches except the palm fronds on the very top. I don’t know about you but I was never very good at the “climb a thick, bare, and absurdly tall tree trunk like Mulan” exercise in gym class. However, that’s just me… and probably all the other white people in Fiji.
Native Fijians, though, are amazing tree climbers. It’s nothing out of the ordinary, for instance, to be walking along a village road and pass under a giant mango tree that a dozen or so Fijians have scaled in order to pluck the best fruits from the most unreachable locations and drop them down to their partners waiting below. And I have indeed seen eleven year old kids monkey their way up coconut trees to cut down the fronds for making brooms or to knock down mature coconuts. I’ve seen this in person so you think I would be able to explain to you how they manage to do it, but I can’t—they just sort of shimmy up using only their hands and feet. Unfortunately, there are no extension-cords long enough to travel the same height for a string of lights and even if there were, having a place to plug them in is an even rarer find.  
So, then, the answer is no.

But that didn’t stop me from decorating my own house with some cheap baubles I found in Suva. I had all the village children come over to help and we made a big event out of it one night a few weeks before Christmas.
My front door :)

The morning sun makes this one rather hard to see but there are several ornaments hanging!

Do you sing carols?

            Only in church…or I suppose I do when I’m in the shower.


Church getting out on Christmas day.
 Do you give gifts or cards?
            No, people just provide ample food and grog and share it all around. Usually, food with family and anyone walking by that wants to come in and grog with everyone.

What do you actually do on Christmas?
            1) Eat lots of food that you usually wouldn’t get in an everyday meal. This includes beef, pork, and chicken, which are generally only slaughtered and eaten for important events (holidays, weddings, and funerals). We also were treated to juice. Typical meals in the village will often be abundant in whatever food is available but almost always lacking in beverage. I’ve noticed that Fijians hardly ever drink any liquids (except for tea and of course grog, which is actually a diuretic), so if I ever dine at another’s house I’m sure to bring my water bottle. However, special events usually mean that we’ll get to drink juice. Juice means Tang. And usually they add sugar to it. Indeed their taste for sugar can be so strong that they would prefer this powdered drink with extra sugar to a mash up of passion fruit, mango, papaya, and banana mixed with some water and honey, which I once made and brought to an event...it stood more or less neglected next to the nearly empty jug of tang. But I drank it so that it wouldn’t feel sad and unwanted. Also, alcohol is not permitted in the village.


            2) Go to church. We do a lot of singing in church including some songs that I know from home (aka O Come All Ye Faithful, which I almost started crying to when they began singing in church) but naturally it’s in Fijian. No where else in the world will you hear women capable of such dazzlingly high soprano voices or men with such incredibly low baritones. It’s always an awkward event for me since I can usually sing best when I’m following someone else’s singing and since I can’t even remotely reach these two extremes I end up croaking out some noise somewhere in between and hoping that no one is standing near enough to hear it.  
            3) Drink grog. All day and all night…and if you’re still drinking grog into Boxing day that is perfectly acceptable as well…or into the day after Boxing day. But usually by that point most people slip into a grog coma, upon waking up from which they start drinking grog again. But it is a big village wide party in the chief’s house where everyone is dressed nice and the children are running around, the women are selling chasers (lollipops and the likes), a couple people are playing the guitar, the ukulele and singing, someone is walking around putting baby powder on people’s faces, and everyone is drinking grog. It’s usually a downright raucous party that everyone enjoys and gives everyone ample opportunity to joke around.
Lots of color.
Drinking grog can definitely be a challenge...especially when you are on your 32nd bowl.

Baby powder gets everywhere.

Passing out the grog.
Well in case I haven't said it yet: Merry Christmas and Happy Hanukkah and Happy Holidays to all! And to all a bright sunny tropical day! :)

6 comments:

  1. I love you and miss you so much
    Dad

    ReplyDelete
  2. Hi Christine,
    I'm so proud of you, you are the most remarkable woman and daugather, any mom can ask for, I'm so excited about comming to see you. stay posative, I know there are times that it get hard, you are doing such a good thing for the people of Fiji. you are so cool. I love you Mom xoxoxoxoxoxoxoxoxo

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Aw how sweet, yes things can get hard if you are in the right place.

      Delete
  3. I just commented because its sad only your parents commented

    ReplyDelete