Christmas in Vanuatu

By Edna Quata, General Assistant, Oxfam in Vanuatu

December is an interesting month in Vanuatu and it is the time of the year when many people everywhere are on the move for their Christmas holidays.

Christmas has always been and will always be remembered by me as days of great feasting. I do two kinds of shopping leading up to that special day. They both can go together but it’s kind of tiring sometimes. Gift shopping is done earlier and then later I do food and market shopping.

A special breakfast and sharing gifs

To me, Christmas really starts on the night of December 24 at around 7pm. We attend a church service at midnight. In the morning on Christmas Day, as a mother I present my children with their new clothes. I make sure they have their bath and change into their new clothes. This is followed by breakfast. Breakfast is the most exciting meal of this day. The table is spread with a variety of biscuits, breads of all shapes and sizes and hot water, which we normally call tea, is mixed with milo, milk or lemon leaf.

After that comes the interesting part of this big day. I present my children with their presents. I let them open their gifts and see for themselves what’s inside. One of my joyful moments is when I see the expression on my children’s’ faces in receiving and exploring their Christmas gifts.

Bunia: our celebration dish

In Vanuatu, this day is a time where families gather together and prepare food. On the table will be different kinds of dishes.

Two of the important meals normally prepared are laplap or bunia. Laplap consists of grated manioc, cassava, taro, yam or banana spread around a special laplap leaf (which looks like banana leaf) and then usually coated with Island cabbage, coconut milk and a favorite piece of meat placed on top. Bunia is another traditional dish with cut pieces of manioc, cassava, taro, yam or banana. It can be baked with or without meat. When you have this dish in place, you know that this will be a great celebration!

All the family have a role to play

Women play a very important role during Christmas. They coordinate the whole preparation in terms of food, decorations and making sure everyone is ready to celebrate. Women also purchase and cut calico into two yards, and tie or drape these onto family members. When a new family is invited into the gathering, draping the calico over the necks of visitors is a way of expressing appreciation. It is a tradition that happens across the whole of Vanuatu and it is still being embraced by many.

Men usually prepare special meat for the whole family and also educating children on the meaning of Christmas. Men do the heavy bits and pieces of the festivity; cut firewood, dig the hole for the bunia or laplap, grate the coconut for the women and girls to use in the laplap or bunia and also decorate the building where the celebration is taking place.

Boys are normally told to stick around to help assist with fetching water and giving a helping hand to whomever needs assistance.

Girls are the ones with the responsibility to organize games and activities like the treasure hunt for the kids or the whole group and also secret friend (exchange of gifts by name picking during a draw made earlier). This is an important part for me, it combines the beautiful decoration and the tasty food with a fun activity.

Rani vorana!

Another activity that can happen on Christmas Day is a Bible quiz where fathers, mothers, boys and girls all take turns to ask Bible quiz questions. Many families think of this day as a spiritual day and celebrate it in the most sacred way so the future generations can understand the true meaning of Christmas.

In my language, the language from the north of Ambae Island where my family comes from, a greeting we share at Christmas is Rani vorana! (birth of Jesus).

With this message I wish you all a merry Christmas!