I love Christmas.
Probably more than the average person. So naturally, I was pretty nervous that the homesickness would peak on December 24/25 and that I would be wishing for snow, my family, things that smell like pine and Bing Crosby's sweet baritone voice.
Christmas came and went and I did find myself wishing for snow, missing what it felt like to be cold and to be close to my family. Oh yes, and Bing. But then I remembered back to a conversation I had with a good friend, Ben who spent some time in Eastern Europe. He reminded me that when integrating into a new culture that you should steer clear of wanting to compare the two, constantly deciding who does what better or worse. But ultimately, it's really like apples and oranges - they aren't comparable. They're just different and that's entirely okay. It's not like I will never experience another American Christmas again, but how often will I get to experience a Tongan one? I have to soak this in. So waking up on Christmas morning to cool weather and lots of rain, I was determined to learn as much as I could about Tongan Christmas and to try to have as much fun as I could in the process.
I am trying to make my rounds to every church in the village, so today I went with my friend Melia to the Church of Tonga. Walking by, you would think that this church was actually a house. It's tucked back in the woods a bit and isn't very big. The only thing that makes it stand out from the houses surrounding it is a small sign above the double doors. So Melia and I sat through the church service. Only an hour long, it reminded me a lot of a Baptist church in the USA. The minister was passionate - and by passionate I mean that he yelled the entire hour, cried occasionally and very rarely took a breath. After church finished, Melia refused to let me walk in the rain. She told me that she would go back to her house and find an umbrella and come back and retrieve me. I told her I would be fine, but she would not hear of it. She returned with an umbrella and then told me to go back to my house and change into something more comfortable.
We then made our way over to a feast at Melia's house. It was wonderful - there was chicken, roast pig, chop suey, sweet and sour beef, noodles, bananas, root crop, hot dogs, strawberry flavored soda ... and so much more. I practiced more Tongan and just took everything in. Playing in the corner were two little kids each showing the other their new Christmas gifts. One little girl was especially excited about her new Barbie Mermaid and the other, a little boy, was playing with a toy helicopter. They were barefoot, playing in puddles and enjoying life. In the background, Tongan radio was playing Mariah Carey's "All I Want for Christmas Is You". I sat next to Melia's little sister, Mele. Once Mele found out I had a camera she made sure to pose for as many pictures as possible. Here is a glimpse of her mini photo shoot. After each picture was taken I would turn the camera over to show Mele and she would giggle and smile and stuff more noodles in her face.
They sent me home with enough food to last me the entire next week - which included the foot of a pig. Awesome. Then I spent some time listening to Bing Crosby, making a list of people who make me smile, and watching Elf. It was a wonderful, yet different, Christmas.