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BYUH students say Christmas is about gathering with family, enjoying traditions and including others

A Christmas tree made from fishing material, include a rope, and blue plates. The background is green grass, sand and the blue ocean. Boats can be seen in the distance.
BYUH students describe what Christmas is like in various locations in Polynesia.

From dressing in matching outfits and enjoying a large feast cooked in an underground oven to decorating the house and enjoying seafood, BYU–Hawaii students said Christmas is about gathering together because of Christ and being sure to include everyone.

Fiji traditions

Savira Veikoso, a senior from Suva, Fiji majoring in business management, said, “In Fiji, Christmas is a very important event where all Christians and non-Christians celebrate … with their families.” She added Christmas is her favorite time of the year because it’s the only day where she and her family are all together.

Veikoso explained her dad is usually busy with work and “is always on trips around the world or busy with the cultural workshops in Fiji.” Because of this, she said she and her family don’t often have the chance to spend much quality time with him.

“Since we are rarely with my dad for the entire year, it is usually only my mom, me and my sister until Christmas. When my dad is finally home, we are all so happy and spend a lot of time talking stories with him about what he missed while being away from home,” she added.

Veikoso said one of her favorite moments is when she enjoys Christmas lunch with her family. She said starting on Christmas Eve until New Year, they eat food such as taro, tapioca, pork, beef, octopus or raw fish with coconut milk. Veikoso said her entire family cooks their Christmas lunch together in an underground oven called a lovo.

Once the lunch is ready, she said they all dress up and prepare plates of food to share with their neighbors. Each family dresses in “kala vata,” or the same color, to make it easier for them to identify each other during big gatherings.

“You know it’s Christmas in Fiji when you see smoke everywhere early in the morning because everyone is cooking their Christmas lunch in the lovo,” she said. “We share our meals on the floor. While we are sharing our lunch together, we share with each other our gratitude, important events or best highlights of the year each of us had.”

She said the tradition of feasting together with her family helps her create cherished memories before she must resume her normal routine. She added, “This special moment helps me reflect on my entire year and pay more attention to what my Heavenly Father blessed me with. My gratitude towards him increases more and more while I share my best highlights of the year with my family.”

Tahiti traditions

Atea Lee Chip Sao, a senior from Faa’a, Tahiti, majoring in TESOL, said Christmas is the biggest event celebrated by his family. In preparation for Christmas, Lee Chip Sao said his family loves to beautifully decorate their entire house to warmly welcome their loved ones.

“Decorating our house is one of the greatest activities I love to do with my family. It allows us to spend time together while having fun. Each of us use our creativity to make something special and beautiful.”

As part of their decorations, Lee Chip Sao said they love to hang lights inside and outside of their house and decorate their Christmas tree with gifts underneath. Shops, markets and public places are also decorated with Christmas lights, he added.

For their big feast, he said a week before Christmas, his parents will buy expensive seafood such as crabs, salmon and oysters to make their family reunion memorable. He explained, “In Tahiti, Christmas is mostly about seafood. During this season, seafood is really expensive. We often need to do our Christmas [shopping] at least a week before because seafood is easily out of stock and the stores are closed during the celebrations.”

Lee Chip Sao said his mother is from the Philippines and his father is from Tahiti, but their “traditions are based only on Church culture rather than our mixed cultures. Christ is what really gathers our close and extended family together, whether or not they are Christians. That is all that matters for us.”

He said during the Christmas season, Tahiti is very festive and thoughtful, and the government provides free movies, gifts, activities and food for families who cannot afford it. “For me, the Christmas spirit is more about giving than receiving. Christ was the perfect example of giving to bless other people without expecting anything in return. I am happy people can feel the spirit and love of Christ through other’s actions.”

The importance of inclusivity

Veikoso said the year before the pandemic, she had an experience she will never forget about. She explained, “On Christmas, I [was] invited to eat with my friends. Once I came back to my hale, I saw one of my friends who was all by himself, so I stopped by and said, 'Hi,' to him.”

She continued, “My friend asked me, ‘Savi, where are you coming from?’” She said she replied, “I just had my Christmas dinner with some friends and now I am going home. How about you? Did you have a great Christmas dinner?” She said her friend replied, “No, I was just by myself tonight. Nobody invited me.”

Veikoso said she wished she “could have turned the time back to invite him because Christmas should be a day of celebration not a day of being alone without a great feast.”

The experience she had with her friend allowed her to celebrate Christmas more meaningfully and to always make sure her friends are included, even though they may not respond to her invitation, she said.