I grew up with a very big family of eight children in a small town called Labasa, pronounced Lam-ba-sa in the Fiji Islands. As a baby boomer, growing up in the 50’s in this small town had many joyous moments and charm of its own. Fiji, back then, was under the British rule so much of the customs and traditions were borrowed and adopted by people of different nationalities living there. The natives were mostly Christians but there were also second and third generation Indians and Chinese descendants, all living in harmony back then, despite different beliefs and traditions.
My father was a very disciplined man and very well respected in the community. When we were growing up, there were two very important things that were stressed upon us without fail. One was the importance of education, and the other was the respect for all the different religions that made up this small community. My family is predominately of the Muslim faith. We are not overly religious people, however, this is the faith we grew up in and so this is what we practiced. As children, we were taught to embrace every faith and our father sent us to a Christian primary school, where we attended Sunday school and learned to embrace the teachings of Christ. So, we grew up to be adults, respecting and honoring every religion.
While Christmas is not celebrated in the Muslim faith, it is one of the Christian holidays we got really excited about as children. The British had introduced us to the existence of “Father Christmas” and the idea of exchanging gifts and presents. Father Christmas was someone we never saw but we heard many tales about him and understood him to exist. We never saw or celebrated with Christmas Trees or lights but on Christmas day, every homemade sure they had soft drinks, bread, jam, and Christmas Cakes. We looked forward to this with great anticipation. Of course, when we grew up as adults, the bread and jam were substituted with goat curry, and the soft drinks were substituted with liquor. We called this day “Bada Din,” translated in English, it meant Big Day. While those of Christian faith visited their churches, the non-Christians celebrated this day with just as much enthusiasm, visiting and inviting family and friends.
Several years later when I migrated to Canada, I saw Christmas become a glamorous spectacle. There was a buzz in the air this time of the year − sparkling lights everywhere, happy moods, busy malls, and Father Christmas was renamed Santa Claus. My birth family was left behind but I was quick to adopt a spiritual family here that consisted of my friend (and surrogate mother) Shirley and her husband Les Waterfield.
Spending time during the holiday season with these two very loving people was always a treat for my daughter and I. We would arrive on Christmas Eve and the festivities would begin all the way to Christmas Day. I would personally get a tour of Shirley’s collectibles, her China and Royal Doultons, which she brought with her from England. Every piece had a story. I would sit and listen to Shirley for hours as she narrated with so much pride all the history behind her collectible pieces. It was a priceless moment in time.
Christmas Day was also celebrated with lots of love and cheer. The highlight of the morning was always lots and lots of delicious baking, the traditional English way, as Shirley came from a baker family. The evening featured a delicious meal prepared with love. Turkey dinner, stuffing, and trifle for dessert — a far cry from goat curry, bread and jam! The table was set with beautiful linens and the plates were warmed in the oven before serving. The Waterfields did not have any children so I was always like their adopted daughter. They were very private people, migrants from Britain, so very often, it was just the four of us, which this made the season even more special.
Although I am not of the Christian faith, Christmas is always a very special time for me. It brings for me a message of unity, of peace and of tolerance. The Waterfields, my blended family in Canada, showed me that one does not have to be related by blood to be part of a family. Christmas was the medium through which this message became my truth. Today, as I reflect upon the past years, I cannot help but wonder how my life as a struggling new immigrant would have been different if I did not have my spiritual family in Canada to support me in my life’s journey. I feel very blessed and grateful for having them in my life and experiencing the joy of being part of two families who were miles apart from each other in distance, yet so closely bonded in the depths of my heart.
I would like to dedicate this article to my birth parents, the late Mr. and Mrs. Rahman and my dear friends and surrogate parents, Les and the late Shirley Waterfield. I am sure Shirley has joined my parents in gracing heaven and putting a smile on everybody thereby spreading cheer through her delicious baking.
Photo Credit: Josh Boot