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Spirit of Christmas

Padre James Bhagwan
Wednesday, December 19, 2012

LAST Friday the Fiji community in Korea were hosted to a Christmas fellowship by the Fiji Embassy in Seoul. Despite the ice, rain and freezing temperatures, a number of us managed to congregate at the chancery, located in the "foreigners" area of Seoul, Itaewon.

We were joined by visitors from the Health Ministry in Suva and a number of Korean business people in the process of or interested in investing in Fiji.

Of course, the trademark of the Fiji Resident Mission in Seoul, since it opened only five months ago has been to do things "Fiji-style", as Ambassador Filimone Kau likes to put it. In July, it was a combined display of diplomacy and culture as the opening of the Fiji Embassy included Fijian warrior escorts, a sigidrigi group to welcome guests and breathtaking performances from Kaba ni Vanua. In October, Fiji-Day celebrations were comb­i­ned with an investment seminar which included senior government reps.

So last Friday it was time to give those who not only see Fiji as a place of business, but also as a paradise, a taste of the Fijian way of celebration. Embassy staff cooked up a storm with everything from chicken and crab curries to baigani vakalolo, roast pork and chicken, kumala, chilli chicken, and even lovo dalo and palusami fresh off the plane from Fiji.

I entered the chancery to the sound of Fijian serenades being sung. Of course it was a CD being played but the music certainly warmed up a chilly day. The second thing I noticed was there were no chairs. Early guests were invited to join the ambassador on the mats and to talanoa as the final preparations were being made to the food and we waited for the other guests.

In true Fijian hospitality words of welcome were said by Ambassador Kau and after a short lotu (devotion) by yours truly (as resident talatala), a small sevusevu was presented to the Korean friends of Fiji.

Here I learned a very important lesson about knowing one's culture as a Fijian. As most of our Fijian community were still on their way to the embassy (a minimum one-hour train and bus ride from our various universities and residences) I was called to be part of the traditional welcome ceremony. Having observed, filmed and participated in many sevusevu, I made sure I (in rugby language) didn't drop the ball. I was fortunate to not only have experience in drinking kava but to also have prepared it on occasion, although I had to be constantly reminded that it was, for most of our guests, the first time to try our traditional drink and to keep every bilo at low tide.

While for some, that first bowl was also their last, a number of our guests continued to call for another bowl with the traditional cobo hand-clap. I was grateful when, our community members arrived and having eaten, relieved me at the tanoa and allowed me to escape to the food.

The experience of this "Fiji-style" Christmas gathering was not lost on our Korean friends. It was a momentary escape from the very formal culture to which they belong. It also allowed us as Fijians to showcase our sense of community and hospitality that is an integral part of our way of life, regardless of who were are and how little we may have. For a few hours, that gathering could have been inside a house, or office in Suva or Bua. The evening offered them a taste of Fiji, not just food and drink, but of who we are as a people.

As I sat in Korea, my family was preparing for a gathering of its own. Last weekend, the descendants of Charles Pickering (including my wife and children) gathered at Lomanikoro, Rewa to renew their ties as vasu (maternal links) to Rewa and to count the branches (and leaves and fruit) of the Pickering family tree. It was a time of celebration, but also of meeting and reconnecting with close and distant family members. A time to acknowledge the past and the present and to remind themselves of the importance of family and their connection with the vanua.

As we pick up the pieces in the aftermath of Severe Tropical Cyclone Evan, there will be many who will not have much to celebrate with. Some will only celebrate that they are alive.

This is a good time for us to remember that Christmas is not about feasting, and buying and giving presents. Sure, it is a time of celebration, and we in Fiji and Oceania know how to celebrate. However we remember is about peace on earth and goodwill to all. This is the joy that Christians feel at this time when they remember the birth of Jesus, is supposed to be shared in the form of peace and generosity of heart.

Jesus was not born in a hospital, or a nice home, but in a stable, the equivalent of a corner of an evacuation centre. He did not enjoy disposable diapers and soft nappies, but strips of cloth. Jesus was not born into a rich and privileged family but one that had to work with its hands to survive and came from a province often looked down by the upper-class of Jerusalem. Jesus was not born into a community of equality, justice and peace. He was born into a society socially, politically and economically oppressed.

Yet the baby rose above all of this to offer the world an alternative vision. A vision of a community where the last would be first and servants were the greatest. A community where there were no social, religious or ethnic barriers.

As we approach the last six days before Christmas let us approach them with the anticipation of a time when we as a people will be able to manifest the vision of such a community in our own nation.

If you are in Suva and looking for somewhere to celebrate this vision, you are welcome to join me at Dudley Church on Christmas Day, beginning at 9am.

May you have a happy and meaningful Christmas!

"Simplicity, Serenity, Spontaneity."

* Reverend JS Bhagwan is a Masters in Theology Student at the Methodist Theological University in Seoul, South Korea. The views expressed are his and not of this newspaper.

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