Christmas in Bora Bora is coming soon, and like children & families worldwide, islanders love Christmas. Christmas Eve and Christmas Day are both important holidays here. The feeling resonates through the air, and one can feel the excitement, touch happiness & joy when Santa comes to this French Polynesian Island.
Historically, whilst recognizing the preaching of a certain Teaarefu from around 1804, Christianity & indeed a traditional Christmas was probably first celebrated on Bora Bora after the battle of Fei-Pi in Tahiti in 1815.
This was when the King’s Christians with guns triumphed over the traditionally armed followers of the Tahitian god Oro. Mai, a warrior chief from Bora Bora who could read and write and had heard the Gospel preached, returned from the battle to Bora Bora, where along with another chief, Tefaaora, he preached the Gospel widely.
They arguably provided the catalyst for the conversion to Christianity on the island, together with celebration of Christmas. This was several years before Pastor Orsmond, Bora Bora’s first pastor, arrived in 1818. Then 2 years later, Pastor Platt, and the construction of the first church on the island, the Protestant Temple at Vaitape, commenced.
Celebrations on Bora Bora get underway a fortnight before Christmas with the opening of the Village de Noel, which is considered the Christmas Fair. It’s a highly animated 4 day get together of stalls focussed on products hand-made in Bora Bora, ranging from jewelry consisting of beautiful works of shells & engraved mother of (Tahitian) pearl to local style clothing.
There is also colorful pottery focussed on the underlying characteristics of Polynesian culture so, inspired by the likes of Gauguin, amongst others. Plus, hand-made traditional musical instruments so precious to people that have an innate propensity to party.
It’s all amidst a massive display of local fruits & flowers & the famous Tahitian oil ‘monoi‘, while the strumming of ukuleles & guitars charms all in attendance:
These very intricate works of art are made by hand from coconut tree palms put through a series of drying and bleaching techniques.
They look like apples but taste like pears!
Each year, on the Saturday before Christmas, the population of Bora Bora gathers just after sunset for a “Parade de Noel” . It’s a colourful parade of magnificently decorated floats and a night-time dance spectacle. It’s a great favorite with the population & a chance to spread the wonder & joy of Christmas.
A great place to start is at the ‘roulottes‘, the famous mobile restaurants and a huge favorite with locals. They have everything from local plates to old favorites, crepes to pizzas and the ambiance is unbeatable.
The floats are decorated in a local Christmas theme. This one covered in snow with a va’a (outrigger canoe) sailing across it was an interesting concept:
Each float is ultimately judged before the public with an offering to the judges being made in the spirit of Christmas.
Amongst the judges this year were the recently elected Miss Bora Bora & also Mister Bora Bora, followed by some shots of this year’s floats taken whilst parading up the main street of Vaitape. Its very much a carnival atmosphere whilst being judged under the big white tent.
The commune’s massive lagoon-side marquee with a floor of snow-white sand is packed to the rafters. All are here to see the island’s children perform in a number of varied dance routines, whereas Christmas would have it fun is very much the order of the day. This is a people proud of its tradition and culture and the tamure (traditional Tahitian dancing) forms the background to the spectacle:
The next day sees, the marquee again packed for a fabulous Night of Christmas Carols.
Polynesians have an innate passion for festivities, singing & dancing, for sharing in a spirit of joy, and the exceptional singing in the churches of Polynesia certainly reflects this truth. Tonight is an oecumenical gathering of wonderful songs in the true Christmas spirit. Choirs from the Mormon, the Adventist, Catholic & Protestant churches, amongst others, are joined by the group Bora Gospel in a Christmas choral celebration.
Bora Gospel would open & close proceedings:
The Mormons were huge this year both in terms of numbers and voice.
The voice of a young boy is synonymous with Christmas carols. Hopefully, this development will be enlarged next year too, why not, include a school choir singing traditional Christmas Carols.
The Adventists carols with a certain majestic quality. Let there be more.
The Protestant Maohi Church was outstanding with wonderful harmonies and deep rich voices. These guys encapsulate the uniquely Tahitian sound that flows from their culture of singing himenes. Let’s hope they add more to their repertoire for next year as in doing so they will add much to the evening overall.
The Catholic Church is another favorite.
There were a couple of smaller groups this year, one with as little as 3 singers & a musician, but they had a certain quality & are to be encouraged as they add much to the evening.
I was struck by the advances made last year & headed home comfortably in the belief that with proper input, this can become an event greater event.
In Tahiti, the tradition is very much to celebrate Christmas on the night of Christmas Eve and well into the wee hours of Christmas Day. Polynesians are people of great Christian faith & all who can attend a religious ceremony to celebrate the birth of Christ.
Here’s a photo from Mass at Saint Pierre Celestine Catholic Church in Vaitape:
Christmas Day service at the Protestant Temple. This is where to head to pay your respects if you wish to hear the best singing on this beautiful island. Plus see handmade hats weaved intricately from local foliage. As a side note, the church also has a Christmas eve service, so you can come both days.
Those visiting Bora Bora are most welcome to participate in any of these events, all of which are held centrally in Vaitape. There’s a common thread of happiness & peace at all such celebrations.
Christmas Day itself is very much a family day when the young & the not-so-young members of a family gather together in the spirit of peace, joy and giving. Don’t forget to put up your Christmas Tree.
Happy Christmas to all.