Every year I see newspapers and magazines printing accounts of peoples’ most unforgettable Christmas. This is mine. It is unforgettable because technically for something to be forgotten it must have happened. This Christmas never did.
As Christmas approached I was plying my way deep into the South Pacific. I was headed for a group of islands which on maps of the world are depicted as pen point dots. But this is an exaggeration. They are smaller than that. I had made my way from San Francisco to Suva Fiji aboard an 80,000 ton British liner named The Oranse, At Suva I transferred to a (slightly) modified tugboat the Tofua. This little workhorse and its sister ship the Hifofua were in those days the Tonga Islands’ connection with the outside world. Their bi-monthly visits brought food, mail, and the rather rare outsider.
I was too early out on this great adventure to be homesick, but it was Christmas Eve, and who knew what tomorrow would bring so I decided to open my present.
I went inside and down to my cramped quarters where the engine and propeller noise combined with diesel fumes and the yawing and lurching of the little ship against the rolling waves encouraged land lubbers to pop back on deck and head for the rail to feed the fishes. I had been out long enough to earn my sea legs by now and my sea stomach.
I climbed up to the bunk which I shared with two of my suitcases. I fished out of the bottom of one a longish flat box Christmas wrapped. The contents had slowly died during my three weeks at sea and layover waiting for the Tofua.
I had received the present from my panting mother in the Ogden, Utah train station. She realized at the last minutes that I would be gone for Christmas (and two more.) She couldn’t bear the thought of one of her children having no presents to open so she dashed to somewhere and returned with this box. My brother Gordon and I had become quite expert over the years at shaking and squeezing the presents under the tree to fathom what was in them.
But this long thin box that rattled was a no brainer. The only question was what the picture would be on the jig saw puzzle. But strangely it rattled less and less, then stopped altogether as we sailed between Hawaii and Fiji. An ant farm that suffocated? Exhausted Mexican jumping beans? A dead rattle snake? Only one way to find out. I tore open the paper and the box and extracted the world’s largest solid piece of peanut brittle. The moist sea air had welded the brittles together until it was one huge bar of caramel and peanuts. It was good for a laugh, and good for an all day and half the night sucker.
I tossed and was tossed in my bunk until I was tired enough to drop off (to sleep, not the bed). While I slept the International Date Line sneaked in like the Grinch and stole my Christmas.
When I awoke it was December 26, Boxing Day in the British Commonwealth of which Tonga was sort of an associate member. Boxing Day as everyone knows who has studied British culture in minute detail, is the day you go around and give gifts to the door man, the mail carrier, the butler, and others who have served you during the year.
It is also the day if you are Elder Hiatt you begin to serve others as a missionary to bring people to Christ. And hopefully in the process you learn a bit more about what Christmas is really about.
The years I spent in Tonga were one of the best investments in my life. But in the day trading I came out on the short end. On the way down I lost a Christmas. Coming back I picked up an extra Friday the thirteenth.

Every year I see newspapers and magazines printing accounts of peoples’ most unforgettable Christmas. This is mine. It is unforgettable because technically for something to be forgotten it must have happened. This Christmas never did.
As Christmas approached I was plying my way deep into the South Pacific. I was headed for a group of islands which on maps of the world are depicted as pen point dots. But this is an exaggeration. They are smaller than that. I had made my way from San Francisco to Suva Fiji aboard an 80,000 ton British liner named The Oranse, At Suva I transferred to a (slightly) modified tugboat the Tofua. This little workhorse and its sister ship the Hifofua were in those days the Tonga Islands’ connection with the outside world. Their bi-monthly visits brought food, mail, and the rather rare outsider.
I was too early out on this great adventure to be homesick, but it was Christmas Eve, and who knew what tomorrow would bring so I decided to open my present.
I went inside and down to my cramped quarters where the engine and propeller noise combined with diesel fumes and the yawing and lurching of the little ship against the rolling waves encouraged land lubbers to pop back on deck and head for the rail to feed the fishes. I had been out long enough to earn my sea legs by now and my sea stomach.
I climbed up to the bunk which I shared with two of my suitcases. I fished out of the bottom of one a longish flat box Christmas wrapped. The contents had slowly died during my three weeks at sea and layover waiting for the Tofua.
I had received the present from my panting mother in the Ogden, Utah train station. She realized at the last minutes that I would be gone for Christmas (and two more.) She couldn’t bear the thought of one of her children having no presents to open so she dashed to somewhere and returned with this box. My brother Gordon and I had become quite expert over the years at shaking and squeezing the presents under the tree to fathom what was in them.
But this long thin box that rattled was a no brainer. The only question was what the picture would be on the jig saw puzzle. But strangely it rattled less and less, then stopped altogether as we sailed between Hawaii and Fiji. An ant farm that suffocated? Exhausted Mexican jumping beans? A dead rattle snake? Only one way to find out. I tore open the paper and the box and extracted the world’s largest solid piece of peanut brittle. The moist sea air had welded the brittles together until it was one huge bar of caramel and peanuts. It was good for a laugh, and good for an all day and half the night sucker.
I tossed and was tossed in my bunk until I was tired enough to drop off (to sleep, not the bed). While I slept the International Date Line sneaked in like the Grinch and stole my Christmas.
When I awoke it was December 26, Boxing Day in the British Commonwealth of which Tonga was sort of an associate member. Boxing Day as everyone knows who has studied British culture in minute detail, is the day you go around and give gifts to the door man, the mail carrier, the butler, and others who have served you during the year.
It is also the day if you are Elder Hiatt you begin to serve others as a missionary to bring people to Christ. And hopefully in the process you learn a bit more about what Christmas is really about.
The years I spent in Tonga were one of the best investments in my life. But in the day trading I came out on the short end. On the way down I lost a Christmas. Coming back I picked up an extra Friday the thirteenth.

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