FAQs Returned Volunteers



Family, friends and a feast: Christmas in the Pacific

Published on 18th December 2015

At Christmas time, our volunteers will be taking well-earned breaks – either heading home for the holidays, or enjoying a Pasifika Christmas.


Our local field staff provide not only practical support throughout the year, but also invaluable cultural insight. Here, they give us a peek at Christmas in their countries:


Pasifika Xmas tree, Rarotonga, Cook Islands

Pasifika Xmas tree made from lychee, sticks and string by Pauline Dennehy and Michael Tate


In Timor-Leste, Country Programme Officer Nene De Almeida says Prezepiu – the Timorese version of the Nativity scene – are appearing in communities all over. Prezepiu are a major part of Christmas in Timor-Leste, unique because the elaborate displays are constructed solely by young people. Nene says “people celebrate from the Christmas Eve after attending Midnight Mass at the Churches. Normally, they will start with immediate family, greeting each other then eating and drinking together. Then, the family members will go out to neigbours to greet them, and carry on doing the rounds. Some families dance, drink and eat for the whole night.”


In Vanuatu, David says most families have picnics on the day, but the real celebrations begin on New Year’s Eve. “On the 31st at night we have singing groups that go around and sing till daybreak. We call this ‘Bonani’ (derived from French ‘Bonne Année’. This continues until January 15, every evening. The singing groups build up as they move from home to home and powder is put on every one’s head as you wish them a happy New Year. Each home visited will give food or money which will be stored until January 15 at which time everyone comes together for a big feast to mark the end of New Year celebrations and the start proper of the year.”


In Samoa, Country Programme Officer Faleolo Levaomana Leo says, “We bring out the best food, especially the size 2 pigs.” The pigs will find themselves in the umu or on the barbecue, while communities get together for fiafia nights (fire dancing), bingo and other games.


Pasifika Xmas nativity scene

Pasifika Xmas decorations made by Pauline Dennehy and Michael Tate in Rarotonga


Games are a part of Christmas in Solomon Islands, too, says Programme Officer Lydia Dentana. “Games are organised a week before Christmas and the whole community comes together for Christmas and a New Year party and feast.” Each province has its own way of celebrating, but Lydia says extended family is key – more often than not, the whole community comes together for the party.


That’s also true in Bougainville, says Country Programme Officer Chris Rimats. In the cities, he says, immediate families get together, “But if you’re in the village, you would spend Christmas day with the whole extended family, eating local: fish, pork and veggies from the garden.”  Kids in town, Chris says, are starting to believe in Santa, as the Western influence creeps in, and the other country programme officers say the same.


Shops and offices all over Dili are decorated with pictures of Santa, Nene says. But even if he’s making his presence felt, it’s not his presents. Gift-giving isn’t the highlight of Christmas in the Pacific, though some families give to children. David Nalo, Programme Officer Vanuatu, says “The majority of kids don’t believe in Santa – though they’ll chase him if he’s distributing lollies!”


Xmas Tree in VSA Wellington

The Christmas tree in the VSA foyer


VSA volunteers as Christmas tree decorations

Our Christmas tree is decorated with photos of our volunteers stationed across the wider Pacific


VSA Christmas tree

Merry Christmas from Volunteer Service Abroad



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