Saturday, January 3, 2015

Christmas 2014

Our last Christmas in Tonga.

This was a much different Christmas than last Christmas, which was spent being sick on our three-day voyage from Niuatoputapu on the 'Otuanga'ofa. Thank goodness! I don't really like being sick. However, it was a price well paid for a visit to such a beautiful place. Niuatoputapu and her people hold a special place in my heart.

This year we got to be involved in all the Christmas-y stuff going on in Liahona, and around the island.

The first thing we did was form a senior choir. We learned five Christmas songs - "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing," "Gentle Mary, Tender Mary," "Guard Him, Joseph," "O Holy Night," and "Silent Night." We even learned the last verse of Silent Night in Tongan! And our Tongan didn't sound half bad. helped that we had three Tongan couples helping us out.

Every Monday evening on the Tongan radio station the LDS Church broadcasts a message. The mission president, or one of his counselors, takes a turn. Last Christmas the Tupou's, Garth and I helped out by recording some Christmas songs that were broadcast not only on Monday nights, but throughout the month of December. This year our little senior missionary choir recorded our five songs (on camera!), and those were broadcast through the month of radio AND TV all over the entire Kingdom of Tonga! The radio station gave us a copy of the recording.

For those interested, you can contact Garth Hamblin, our manager, and you can receive ALL FIVE SONGS on your very own CD for just $9.99 (USD), plus shipping. What a bargain! A true one-of-a-kind keepsake you will want to pass on for generations to come.

Well....probably not.

The recording was an experience all on its own!! You get a couple of minutes to warm up while they're setting up the cameras. They do a quick sound check. And then you're off. One chance to get it right and then on to the next song. No editing here. We're a volunteer choir, so there were a few bumpy spots. But, we sure had fun.

Our little senior choir also did a couple of at the Nuku'alofa 6th ward in Fasi (downtown Nuku'alofa), and one in the gym at Liahona, where the youth (and some not so youthful) from our ward (Nuku'alofa 10th ward), and I think one of the Havelu wards, formed a choir, learned some beautiful pieces, and we got together and sang for each other. That was so fun.

I should mention that at those firesides Garth and I sang a duet of Russell Thomas' song, "Where Is Jesus?" and Elder Funaki (one of my most favorite senior missionaries!!) read Gaye Willis' story, "Will the Christ Child Come?"...which he translated into Tongan for the Nuku'alofa 6th ward fireside ('ve been translated!! Well, translated in the sense that you're writing has been translated into another language. But, you're one of the few people I know who is close to being translated for real!), and then in English at the fireside at Liahona. EVERYONE cried. I love that story. Many people commented on how it helped bring the true meaning of Christmas to their hearts.

So, that's what our little choir did for the holidays.

On a Monday evening close to Christmas the entire village of Matangiake (which is the village across the street from Liahona) came to our family home evening and caroled to us. That was a treat. There was one little girl and little boy right in front, who were too young to read. But, they both had their papers with the words on them, and they were part of the choir!  The little boy mostly just held the paper. But, the little girl knew all the words to every carol. They sang some in Tongan, and some in English, and she knew them all.

The Nuku'alofa 10th ward had a very fun Christmas activity. They went to the beach! And Santa came! One of the senior missionaries, Elder Wood, got roped into playing Santa at the last minute.That was a riot. He used to teach middle school, and is great with the kids. But, the suit was a little too big for him, and he nearly lost his pants a time or two. The beard had no mouth, so he had to talk through the beard. A skinny Santa in sandals! Not something you see every day.

Opening their gift bags
What's a Christmas party without karaoke? And not only Christmas songs....Tongans come prepared to sing just about anything. We had songs from the 60's to the present day.
My favorite - Garth singing "Can You Feel The Love Tonight"
Elder Wood taking a turn

And, of course, we went tide pooling. The Bishop's son, Andrew, was out snorkeling with Eldel Wood, just coming his fingers through some of the seaweed growing on the rocks, when he found an 'anga'anga shell (I think that's how you spell it). An 'anga'anga shell is a spider conch shell. This one was HUGE! About 12" from side to side. It was beautiful. Of course, it had the critter still in it. Generally, the Tongans will just break the shell to get the critter. But, since we palangi's LOVE shells (and not so much the critters inside), Sister Wood had investigated ways of getting out the critters without breaking the shell, and also keeping the critter edible. She was going to freeze the shell whole, thereby killing the critter, AND keeping it edible, so someone else could enjoy a meal.

No Tongan party is complete without an 'umu. The ward cooked chicken while everyone else brought salads and desserts. It was yummy.

Then, of course, on Christmas day we got together with Dad, had our traditional breakfast casserole, and opened gifts that Jacque brought for us when she and Jeff visited in November. That was so much fun. And the day after Christmas (which, of course, was Christmas Day in the US) we Skyped with our kids and Brielle, and watched them open their gifts. That was so much fun. And, we showed them what they were getting from us for Christmas. They won't get their Christmas presents until we get home because we decided we wanted to get them something Tongan...something from Pres. Steven Fehoko who is a world-renowned Tongan master carver. He is also a counselor in the mission presidency. He is so generous to the missionaries.

When our kids were here in July we took them to Pres. Fehoko's and tried to pay attention to what they were drawn to. Then we had Pres. Fehoko make their presents. Tyler got a carved 4-foot war club that is just awesome. The entire club is carved. Ashley and Sarah each got whales out of whale bone - Ashley's is coming up out of the water, like it's breaching, and Sarah's is a mama whale with a little baby on its back. Joanna got a necklaced of round red coral beads. The beads are huge - about 3/4-inch in diameter. The red coral grows very deep, and is difficult to get to. The piece of coral these beads came from must have been massive. Brielle's Christmas present (which Pres. Fehoko is just beginning to work on) is going to be a spiral shell with a hermit crab coming out of it. She LOVED the hermit crabs. She was always picking them up, finding safe places for them, or finding friends so they wouldn't be alone.

Later in the day several of the senior missionaries gathered together and went to the beach. The beach on Christmas!! Warm weather, warm water...ahhhh! But, not everyone gets to enjoy the laziness of a day off on Christmas. We met a couple of fishermen just finishing hauling in their nets. After all that hard work, they, of course, took a little swim to cool off.

Well, that was our Christmas. Hope yours was a wonderful as ours was. Next year we'll be home, opening our presents, and enjoying holiday traditions with family and friends. But, we will NEVER forget our Christmases we spent in Tonga.

Christmas Day 2014 - Navutoka Beach

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