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Editorial Dec 25th 2020

Welcome to this week’s editorial, Christmas 2020. Christmas is many things to many people. I grew up in the Territory of Papua New Guinea and my early memories of Christmas still bring amusement as I recall the mishmash and mixed messages. In the village next to where I lived, around 45miles distant from the nearest big town the Lutherans had built a new Haus Luluai (church). They were making inroads into teaching the Bible and found that the villagers liked to sing. So next came the singalongs of Psalms, translated into pidgin English (Tok Pisin). This added its own confusion to the Christian story and more so around Christmas when the character of Mary is introduced. In pidgin English a woman is called a meri. The local women loved the story of Mary, mother of Jesus, and they finally worked out why the Priest addressed them as meri and told them “God istap insite yu” (God is in you). So they now knew how to spell Mary and as one adopted the name of Mary whenever an outsider asked. This made things difficult for the administration at the time who recorded that just about every child born in the village of Kabugam had a mother called Mary and every boy born was named Jesus. I was only a wee lad then and spent most of my time in and around the village. The first Nativity scene I remember was outside the new church. It had a plastic baby doll suspended in a woven bilum bag surrounded by course wood carvings that looked vaguely like pigs and dogs (no-one had ever seen a sheep, a donkey or a cow). The three wise men were carved, as normal, with bones through their noses and oversized penises to denote their status. There was an odd carving that looked like a woman with long pendulous breasts and watching over the entire assembly was Sanguma, the local demon that ripped out your throat if you ventured outside the village after dark. My first ever Nativity scene and one fondly remembered. Eventually my father and I moved into Madang and there Christmas was once again a mishmash of interpretations where the Chinese Trade stores would put up all their Chinese New Year decorations and mix in some tinsel. Added to their mix would be fireworks as a prelude of things to come so the streets in the lead up for Christmas were always covered in red betal spit and red firecracker paper. In time, exposed to school and more white families I came to learn of Santa who appeared to have super powers that enabled him to fly and that he was an old fat bastard who determined if you were good or bad and rewarded you as he saw fit. As we were poor I always thought he hated me because I barely got a gift worth talking about while all the other kids from school did so much better. Having now travelled far and wide and seen so much of other cultures my views of Christmas are around the sentiment of families and friends. Christmas has universally become a time to pause and enjoy those family and friends. Whatever happens this Christmas, may those who love you and those you love, find a moment’s happiness. And don't leave the village. Until next Lei