Operation Christmas tree
by Eduard Schaepman, on 20 Dec 2018
Every year again, it’s a whole operation: decorating your house for Christmas. The tree has to be bigger and better each year, something you see in the shops as well. Thanks to Gamma you could even bring your tree home before Saint Nicolas has left our country, without feeling ashamed (they invented a brilliant secret packing service, so you could bring you tree home in a box). At the Schaepmannetjes it’s a ritual for the man of the house – that’s me – to buy the tree. So, just like every other year, I went on an expedition to find the most beautiful one. And again, I was very excited about operation Christmas tree…
As always, I was not the only one that was sent on the mission to score the most perfect tree, and I came across some acquaintances here and there. ‘Are you also buying a tree?’ is a frequently heard one-liner on such a day and I have to suppress the urge to call back; ‘no, I’m taking a safari’, or ‘what else would I be doing here?’. After I’ve managed to get a beautiful piece out of a row of depressed looking trees, I take it home. I always leave the decoration to the ladies; they have a way better eye for that, and I feel satisfied to see this annual scene. While I am observing (read: recovering from my mission), my thoughts wander to the indigenous tribes, some of whom don’t even know these Christmas troubles.
Take for example the Secoya from the rainforest, who have little to no contact with the outside world. Their religion is animistic, and they believe that souls or spirits exist in everything, not only in people or animals. So, the Secoya men don’t’ go on a mission to find the perfect tree, they don’t decorate their tipi’s with Christmas items and they don’t have to fight with lights (which are twisted altogether each year, and every time I end up at the Blokker for a couple of new ones), because they don’t know Christmas at all. They have plenty of other rituals or ceremonies; like the yage ceremony, where everyone comes together in the village house to drink yage.
This also applies to the Maasai in Kenya: traditionally they don't have a Christmas party. But due to the increase in tourism and modernization, Christmas Eve is celebrated more and more often. A nice, fat chicken, goat or cow is slaughtered, everyone comes together around the fire and the most beautiful stories are told.
The Maori on the other hand have known Christmas since the end of the 18th century, when Christmas was introduced when the English entered New Zealand. Nowadays the Maori men are also sent out to buy a tree, but without a thick winter coat and hat, because December is the first summer month in New Zealand. The men have to get a Pohutukawa, the traditional New Zealand Christmas tree, which is then decorated with greeting cards. While we want to have a dinner with as many courses as possible, the Maori often make a traditional Hangi for Christmas. This round pit, whose bottom is shaped like a bowl, is filled with firewood and small stones. Baskets are filled with food, placed in the pit and then covered. In this way, the meat, vegetables and potatoes are steamed. The soft, tasty food is served in the late afternoon, as the Maori gather around the Hangi after the festive meal to tell each other stories and sing songs.
As I am on my way to get new Christmas lights, I see the resemblance. Even if it's celebrated a little differently or not at all, all over the world, with a house full of glitters and lights, or just around the fire, in the end everything comes down to the same thing: being together. I wish you a wonderful Christmas, with