White Sunday is the biggest holiday in Samoa, and it took me a while to realize that. The first year I was here, we arrived in country the week before White Sunday. One of the staff members invited us to his church, and it was great, but everything was fresh and new at that point so I couldn’t really tell it apart from a palm tree or a spider the size of my hand. My second year, White Sunday came at a particularly rough time and I could just barely handle all the dance practice at my fale, and so couldn’t exactly enjoy the performance. This year, though, it was amazing.
White Sunday is also called Children’s Church, which I think is also about equalizing the family – we have Mother’s Day and Father’s Day, but what about the kids? Let’s give them a day too! But I think it’s more about the family. Morning church is dedicated to the Sunday School performance (it’s what that never-ending song and dance practice all leads up to), and I have thoroughly enjoyed both performances at my church (first year doesn’t count, it wasn’t my village and my church). After listening to the progressive improvement from my room, I finally get to watch the final, polished product with actions. The song that stood out most to me this year went something like this:
“I am sing (sing!) sing (sing!) down to the Satan.
Glory to God, Glory Jesus!
I am sing (sing!) sing (sing!) victory to Jesus
Glory to God, amen!
I told a lot of people about this song beforehand because none of the grammar makes sense, but if you don’t think to hard, you can kinda get an idea of what they’re going for. After listening to it for weeks, I was sure it would just barely be presentable, but it was actually really good in performance.
Afternoon church is dedicated to the families. The families spend a week (or two or three) putting together their own songs, dances, and dramas to perform during the service. I think my village divided into 7 or 8 families for these, so there were quite a few performances. Some were better than others (through unfortunate timing this year, I missed most of my family dance practice. We also had about 6 little tiny pre-school kids this year that were with some other family last year, so in addition to lots of sketchy dancing on my part, the moves were relatively simple) but it’s the spirit and effort that counts overall.
White Sunday is also the big gift holiday. People don’t really give presents at Christmas here, but everybody gets new clothes for White Sunday – both church and regular clothes. Monday was the public holiday following White Sunday (seriously, why don’t we get double holidays in the States?) and all the Sunday School was over at my fale again for their cake, ice cream, and volleyball games. I was watching the volleyball for a while, and it took me longer than usual to recognize the people playing because they were all wearing different outfits! That’s not what you normally wear, who are you? (I was recounting this story to someone in the office, and I told her that it’s happened to me before – I was talking to someone I had just met, then I went and changed my shirt, and when I came back she didn’t recognize me). It’s a great holiday.
There were two thoughts that kept crossing my mind as I was watching all the White Sunday performances. First was “when will this be over?” I spent about 6 ½ hours at church on Sunday, and (don’t tell!) I left early. People were slowly making their exodus from the church and there was just one old lady left in my pew. We kept looking at each other and asking each other if we wanted to go, and finally we made our move and left together. The other thing that crossed my mind was how much I love my village, my students, and my families. I’m so proud of my kids and everything they can accomplish when they put their mind to it. I had a lot of those teary-eyed moments, then I would glance at the program and realize how many performances were left, and I was back to thinking “Are we done yet?” Sounds about right.