A New Years Eve Celebration Where Time Begins in Tonga
The first country in the world to greet the New Year, each and every year, is Tonga in the South Pacific. That is because it lies very close to the 180th parallel (12 hours ahead of Greenwich). It sits directly on the International Dateline. http://www.tongatapu.net.to/tonga/homeland/timebegins.htm
Tongans value their relationship with God and others. The whole first week of the New Year is called Uike Lotu (prayer week). Every day church congregations meet and pray morning and evening, and in between they feast together. Bands all over the island take their instruments, sometimes-homemade banjos, bass and guitars, and go from home to home hoping for some provisions in exchange for their music.
The people of Tonga take the New Year very seriously. When we lived in Tonga, at 12:01 the first minute of the New Year, people would start walking, trying to be the first to greet their relatives. You could see people walking all over the paths and roads looking for their kin. When they would meet, which may be halfway between their homes, they would embrace and uma (kiss). Then they would sit down and have some cookies and Milo before leaving to find other relatives. It was a time of meeting, praying and feasting. The older people would talk and reminisce about the old times and express their gratitude for being able to make it to the New Year.
The young men would construct fana pitu (bamboo cannons) and you could hear them all over the islands booming as their kerosene contents are lit. The boys will try hard to outdo each other in this cannon marathon. It sounds like a war is going on in the villages with all the cannons going off.
After greeting all the relatives, and a long nap, most everyone heads for the beach. January 1st is during the hottest time of the year in Tonga, unlike the white snowy Christmases others are used to. The whole family will go to the beach and have a swim. Food for the New Year is usually baked in an umu (underground oven), and may include lu pulu (beef, onion and coconut milk wrapped in taro leaves), root crops like taro, kumala (sweet potato) manioke (tapioca), and seafood. The men fix the umu, and every one enjoys it.
Not only the villagers celebrate the coming of the New Year. On January 1, 2009 members of the royal family as well as cabinet ministers and distinguished guests received an audience with his Majesty King George Tupou V shortly after midnight. Even the monarch tries to strengthen his relationships during the new years celebration.
Truly, the people of Tonga are proud that time begins in their country. Their monarch, Taufa’ahau Tupou IV fought for them to have this distinction so they would be the first in the world to offer up their prayers in the New Year. They even have a hotel called the International Dateline Hotel.
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