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Friday, December 9, 2011


Just when I think I’m handling the routines pretty well here, the routines change.  Hurry up and teach, then grind to a stop.  We’ve all grown up hearing how laid back the life is on the Pacific Islands – well, try combining Christmas and school summer break!  It’s downright lonely on this campus!  Intellectually, I’ve accepted the fact that it will be about 85 degrees F. on Christmas Day, but it still feels odd to see Christmas decorations and hear Christmas music being played when it’s obviously NOT winter.   

The LDS/Mormon congregations here are challenging each other to have a White Christmas by finding neighbors to teach about the restored gospel, and see them baptized this month (in their white clothing).  Or, if there are families who have not been to the temple yet, to get those families sealed for all eternity in the temple (again, in white clothing).  What a way to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ – to bring families closer to Him!

This is what our home looks like, at least for the next few weeks.
This has been a week of firsts.  Finished teaching my very first university-level course, Reading in the Content Area (teaching high school teachers the value of supporting reading skills in their own subject areas).  Caught my first gecko – little tiny guy, about 2-3 inches long – while I was moving bookshelves in the office to rescue books that had fallen down behind the shelf.  Spoke in Tongan in Church (only about four sentences, at the end of my talk).  Said goodbye to the first of my colleagues to leave Tonga – another missionary couple who finished their assignment, and found it difficult to leave these people.  I’m pretty sure I’ll feel the same in two years.  And for the first time in my entire life, it was necessary to knock down a wasps’ nest in order to hang Christmas lights!  

The wonderful part about having Christmas in the summer is that you don’t need to look for color.  There are magnificent ‘ohai (say oh-high) trees that have fiery red blooms on them – little, tiny, orchid-like blooms that are actually variegated, but from a distance look solid red, against mimosa-style leaflets.  And their canopies spread out so beautifully – it’s like a series of red and green umbrellas opening, especially considering that each tree seems to be on its own schedule.  One tree is in full bloom, and the one right next to it is just barely sprouting leaves, which come before the blooms.  Our fellow palangis (say pah-long-eez) just call them Christmas trees.  No decoration needed.

The biggest surprise for me has been the presence of tall conifer trees here on Tonga, some of them with cones bigger than both my hands cupped together.  I’m used to seeing trees like that in Colorado, but I never expected them here in the tropics!  This tree is my favorite conifer, just because it looks so feathery soft.  The needles are not dense, and the gnarled trunks tell stories with their nooks and crannies and even spaces open to the air, which probably help them survive the winds of tropical cyclones.  And they must provide comfort, since I always see people resting under them.


There is one traditional Christmas tree up in town – erected by one of the cell phone companies here.  It’s about 25 feet high, covered by day in ornaments, and by night in garlands of light.  It’s beautiful, and I think every tourist in Tonga has taken a picture of it!  Makes everyone stop and think, that’s for sure!


Most of the stores have very simple Christmas decorations for sale.  This store decided to go all out, putting decorations up on the windows and then decorating a saxophone-playing Santa in tinsel leis.  Cute.

Christmas is not really heavily commercial here, at least not yet.  Most Tongans exchange a few gifts on Christmas, but it’s not unusual for gifts to be given early – there is no pronouncement that you must wait until Christmas Eve or Christmas Day to open presents.  Christmas Day is a day for family, and a great excuse for a big meal.  Presents are extra.  But merchants still stock up, and get presents ready for parents to give, like this little bicycle.  Who needs training wheels when you’re only 12 inches off the ground?  I haven’t seen a bike this tiny since we lived in Japan!


Christmas means music in Tonga, too.  There are ukuleles playing somewhere, every time I step outside.  There are bands, too – brass and woodwinds – at parties, in churches, in parades – playing all kinds of music.  This group was playing what I have come to call Pacific Jazz style music at a craft fair.  They sang, they played ukuleles, banjos, guitars and and even a saxophone (at times) together, all with a great jazz rhythm and tempo, but with Pacific harmonies.  New Orleans, Tonga Style! 

Last Sunday, we took a ride with another missionary couple to just see some of this beautiful island.  As we came into town we heard music coming from the Free Church of Tonga Cathedral (a large church, built in 1983 – it actually has coral as its exterior “stone”, so it looks a lot older than it is). The Free Church was started by the King of Tonga a hundred years ago in an effort to keep church donations in-country.   

We stopped and got out of the car, and were drawn inside to a choir rehearsal, complete with brass quartet.  The choir of 12 or so singers and the brass players filled the 50-foot high, 200-seat sanctuary with some of the most beautiful sounds I have ever heard.  We spoke with a member of that church, and we were invited to attend the Christmas afternoon service.  I can’t wait to be there.

The most peaceful, reverent feelings I remember experiencing at Christmas come to me every evening at sunset.  There is something sacred about a sunset, especially one on the ocean.  Makes me remember why I’m here, and what larger purposes I serve.  I'm reminded of what Howard W. Hunter said about what to give at this time of year:  
Give to your enemy, forgiveness.
To your opponent, tolerance.
To your friend, your heart.
To all men, charity - 
      for the hands that help
      are holier than lips that pray.
To every child a good example.
And to yourself, respect.

'Tis the season, y'all.   


  1. I thought of the mimosa too! That is just gorgeous, Bea, you and Jim will be wanting to stay! What true spirit is there with you! I just love the "White Christmas" idea! We should do that in other places where we're snow-deprived!
    It's almost like being there, it's as if I'm seeing all this through your eyes. You write your feelings so well, Bea! Thank you for sharing this adventure!

  2. Have to say the White Christmas idea is truly wonderful! Hoping you enjoy a warm Christmas with much success there. Keep posting, we love to hear from you. It's been a high here, if we're lucky of about 20 degrees - down to the 0's a below at night - more like January than early Dec. Love you always Karen McKoy Peterson