Christmas in Andavadoaka, a remote coastal village in southwest Madagascar, is something quite different from what many of us are used to.
For a start, it’s the middle of summer, and temperatures are regularly hitting 35 degrees celsius! No thick Christmas jumpers needed here.
There is also very little indication that Christmas day is fast approaching, as Andavadoaka is so remote that people have limited access to luxuries like Christmas lights or decorations. The excess of flashing lights, the garish advertising, and the general decadence of Christmas that some of our staff and volunteers are used to experiencing back home, is conspicuously absent.
This may seem strange for those of us with long Christmas lists preparing to brave the last minute shopping rush on Christmas Eve, but Christmas in Andavadoaka has a refreshing simplicity. Unburdened by consumerism, the importance of family and community is the main focus of the holiday.
The exchange of gifts, traditional in many places, is actually not common in Andavadoaka. Patrick and Patty, who are both boat captains and dive assistants in the Blue Ventures expedition team, said it depended on that particular year but that it wasn’t uncommon to not buy gifts at all. Patty said that he would sometimes get presents for his two children, and Patrick said that sometimes his family exchange gifts, but both agreed that it didn’t happen every Christmas.
People will celebrate on the 25th but most will also have the 24th and the 26th off from work, giving them time to gather together with their families. On Christmas day itself, the family groups will have a large meal before attending church for mass.
Every Christmas Day, Patrick prepares the food for the goat barbecue that he has with his family after they’ve all been to mass. The barbecue is usually followed by “kelikely” (a little) drinking, as the family all relax and enjoy their afternoon together.
In the evening, everyone in Patrick’s family will go to Dada’s, the village épicerie and bar, for a communal Christmas party. The majority of the families in the village go to Dada’s every year, including the children, and everyone spends the evening dancing, catching up with friends and relatives, and generally having a good time.
We asked the students from our English class what they ate for their Christmas Day family meal. Rice and beans were the main part of everybody’s meal, as is common in Madagascar, but they also had fish, goat, or zebu with their meal, depending on what the student’s family liked best.
We also asked about Christmas music, and what they enjoyed listening to during their holidays, but our answers came in the form of blanks looks. The incessant subjection to Mariah Carey and Michael Bublé that many of us associate so strongly with this time of year is not a feature of Christmas in Andavadoaka. The music that the students did mention included a range of Malagasy music, and the songs that they sing in church around the Christmas period.
For everyone we talked to, students and staff alike, the best thing about Christmas was getting together, having dinner, and relaxing with family and friends. So there may be many differences in how this holiday is celebrated, but the spirit of Christmas seems to be the same whether you’re in England, Germany, the United States or Madagascar!
Huge thanks to Catherine Pigeon for all her work collating this blog, and thanks to our volunteers as well for helping out with the interviews!
Find out more about our education partner Steph’Andava.
Join a marine conservation expedition in Andavadoaka.