Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Lefse in the South Pacific

It was, perhaps, 80 degrees Fahrenheit, and I could feel my shoulders prickle and glow in the first stages of sunburn. My housemate adjusted her sunglasses as we peered at the tree in our backyard. “So, we just hack at it?”

“I guess so.” Landscape design wasn’t my forte. “I think the bush knife would be easiest.”

“Probably.” She swung it experimentally and then bent over. “Here we go!”

And so, with a great many hackings and chippings and whackings, we managed to cut down the bushy, shapeless spruce that was to be our Christmas tree. Actually, we were quite pleased with ourselves—not only did we release a fruit tree from the spruce’s choking grasp, but it would serve our holiday purposes far better than our other option of the spindly avocado tree which the dogs had nearly destroyed.

The Tree (complete with racing LED lights!)
Before long, our two other housemates joined us, and together, we managed to wrestle it across the yard, up the steps, onto the porch, in through the double doors and finally into our living room. What a great tree! We congratulated ourselves, grinning with the effort. As we began hauling it upright, our smiles became a bit more round in surprise: Trees that look short outside evidently morph into gargantuan mountains of greenery once brought into a house.

Nevertheless, we valiantly pulled out our Christmas tree stand (an unwanted White Elephant gift left from an earlier party), which, upon seeing the magnitude of the tree’s girth, promptly fell apart and required some ingenuous convincing by wire and a leatherman. But before long, the tree was standing (safely fishing-lined to the wall and ceiling to prevent unwanted crashing from earthquakes like the 7.3 one just experienced), we were sorting out Christmas lights by power voltage, and the dozen spiders who once called the  tree home were now dueling over new territory on the ceiling.

Oh well. At least the geckos will have a Christmas feast.

Christmas in Ukarumpa, I am learning, has the intimacy of a college campus (where else does the entire population turn out for the high school Christmas concert or the weekend coffee house or the store’s version of “Black Friday” when shipments come in with much-awaited rarities?), the bustle of a small town (especially as we scurry to take care of business before departments close for the holiday break) and the global feel of the United Nations (20+ nationalities each adding their own flavor—literally—to the mix).

Gingerbread + humidity = high level of homeowner's tolerance!
There are evenings of cookie decorating and classic Christmas movie nights, white elephant parties and Christmas choir practices, a holiday orchestra and Sunday School children’s parties.—I even went caroling (replete with umbrella, mud boots, and headlamp since it was pouring rain)! Yesterday, ten pairs of hands gathered around our kitchen table and were soon covered in frosting and candy cane pieces in gingerbread house decorating (one house aptly included a swimming pool and coconut trees).

Indeed, this past month has been a delightful mix of new and old traditions as families bring bits of their home country to the tropics of PNG—I, for one, decided the South Pacific needed an introduction to my family’s lefse (sort of a potato tortilla hailing from Norway).

But more than that, it has been a huge blessing to celebrate our Savior's birth within a community that exists solely because the Word became flesh and dwelt among us. He left His home to enter into our culture and share a life-changing message in a way that allowed us to finally understand in our hearts—translation by incarnation. Alleluia!

Merry Christmas!