Christmas in Samoa

First of all, a belated Merry Christmas wish from this Malae!

It's early morning in the village. I was awake though my eyes were still sleepy and squinty. I heard the early birds - hen and her chicks - already chirping and pecking at their first squirmy victims of the new day. And as usual, the pigs gathered around the cooking hut, grunting and snorting against the horizontal wooden rails. I opened my eyes and the first things I saw were paper chains.

The events of the night before came back to me. My grandmother had stayed up to help finish our Christmas decorations. She had mixed the right amounts of flour and water to make the glue used to paste several links for the long colorful paper chains. We tied and hung them from different sides of our fale (house) in long curves and converging at the center from where a bell hive ornament was suspended.

During Christmas, the word "toy" (mea ta'alo, literally "plaything") was more common than "present/gift" (mea alofa). The emphasis was on something a kid would and could play with - balloons, balls, water pistols, etc. - and not things like clothes or school items.

In fact, as a little boy, this was the time to start forgetting about school and other less fun things. For one thing Christmas signaled the longest school break; it was also the end of the school year. Before colored paper was used for the decorative chains, pages of old school exercise books were cut up for the links and other paper creations. It was not therefore uncommon to see a paper link or snowflake cut from a page of a Health, Social Studies, Arithmetic or other books.

The family Christmas meal was often prepared early so that the rest of the day was spent with fun and games. Volleyball was a favorite, though some families sponsored lawn bowling using a regular ball and tin cans for pins. Some of these games had monetary prizes. Hence, bingo was also popular. But the malae still serves as the center of activities where the children showed off their simple yet coveted toys.

Perhaps one of the most common ways Christmas is celebrated by Samoans is with drinking parties by adult men. Consumption of alcohol - commercial and otherwise (homemade brew, watered down methylated spirit, etc.,) - is at its highest during Christmas holidays than at any other time of the year. These parties usually start early morning, and so by mid afternoon, drunks were already leaving their party hideouts and started to amble and swagger into the village malae, strutting their stuff.  Drunks actually represent a familiar sight on Christmas Day.

There are usually two types of drunks during Christmas holidays - the comedian and the bully. The comedian would start dancing and making all other funny gestures telling incoherent jokes. He also becomes very talkative, mostly nonsensical blabber. The worst that could happen to him is indecent exposure from a dropped lavalava (wrap around attire)

The bully, on the other hand, who acquires a sense of invincibility from his inebriation, would make loud kiususu (native war cries) issuing challenges to anyone. He becomes a man with superhuman powers, at least that's how he sees himself.

The comedian is usually guided home to have a good sleep, while the bully is sometimes tragically put to "sleep" by some of his assailants.

Speaking of sleep, the village rarely finds time for it on Christmas night. The nocturnal revelry punctuated by blasts and explosions fired by bamboo cannons keep everyone up and in the merry and festive spirits of the season.

And that's a snapshot of a typical Christmas when I was growing up as a little boy in Samoa. Much of it, I'm sure, is still reenacted today.   It is indeed "the most wonderful time of the year."

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