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Christmas In East Timor

New Zealand Defence Force
Te Ope Kaatua O Aotearoa

Media Release

December 25, 2000


Although Christmas in East Timor is far removed from Christmas in New Zealand, the New Zealand Defence Force personnel who will be peacekeeping over the traditional holiday period will be doing all they can to make it a special day.

Christmas celebrations in Suai began on Christmas Eve when members of the Battalion travelled through the local township of Suai with candles, entertaining the locals with Christmas carols. “Operation Christmas” was well received by the local population who enthusiastically joined in the fun!

Being a predominately Catholic country, the East Timorese people also celebrate Christmas. A Christmas Service was held at midnight in the Suai Church and it was attended by large numbers of villagers from the surrounding areas. While the Mass was conducted in Tetum, the local language, many New Zealand Defence Force personnel attended this service.

On Christmas morning, the New Zealand Battalion Padre will conduct a Christmas Service at the Chapel, which is located in the Forward Operating Base (FOB) in Suai.

Christmas Day for the soldiers based at the FOB will begin with breakfast and present opening and getting ready for a Hangi Christmas lunch. Extra Christmas food rations have arrived with the normal resupply runs ensuring there is plenty of food for the soldiers and guests. Other Kiwis serving in the Suai area (especially the New Zealand Police Officers) have been invited, as well as a number Non Government Organisation staff who work closely with the Battalion.

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The Lunch will be followed by an afternoon of fun and games. A Village Green, which is much like a Top Town, will be held down on the local soccer field (approximately three kms from the FOB). The local villagers should enjoy an afternoon of hilarious viewing watching the soldiers take part.

Christmas night will provide an opportunity for budding thespians to show off their skills at a skit evening being held in the FOB. Called a 'Smoke Concert', most of the units and groups working in Suai will get the chance to showcase the skits they have been preparing for the occasion. For those who have the room, there will be a BBQ supper on offer.

The normal daily routine must take place on Christmas day just like any other, but to allow the soldiers to have the most relaxing and enjoyable day possible, the senior Battalion staff will be taking over many of their duties including assisting with food preparation, serving and cleaning up, security patrols, and radio watch.

While the Battalion FOB enjoy their Hangi, the Royal New Zealand Air Force (RNZAF) 3 Squadron Helicopter Detachment, located five kms away from the FOB, will be flying Santa around the New Zealand Area of Operations to pay a visit to the soldiers working in distant Company positions. Santa won't bypass the Fijians, the Nepalese or the Irish who play an important part in the New Zealand Battalion Group’s mission in East Timor.

Because of the fly around, 3 Squadron will hold their Christmas celebrations on Boxing Day. Their lunch will be quite traditional, with roast chicken and pavlova which they will share with the small contingent of Australians who work in their compound. They'll take part in sports in the afternoon or maybe a swim at the beach.

Christmas at the Company locations (Tilomar and Lolotoe) will follow the same lines as the Suai FOB celebrations, although one of the Companies has indicated they would like to hold a traditional Christmas lunch along the lines of that planned by the RNZAF’s No 3 Squadron. The afternoon will probably see plenty of games of rugby or soccer with the local children who enjoy playing sport with the Kiwis. Obviously the plans will have to remain flexible to fit in with any operational requirements that may occur.

As the Cova Lima district remains alcohol free for the peacekeepers based there, plenty of soft drinks will be consumed!

Christmas for the New Zealand Defence Force staff based in Dili began with a BBQ on Christmas Eve for all the Dili based Kiwis including the United Nations Military Observers and the Civilian Police. On Christmas Day the Australians and the Kiwis will join together for a big Christmas lunch and then an afternoon at the beach.

Royal New Zealand Returned Services Association Christmas packages, filled to the brim with New Zealand favourites like Gingernuts, L&P, Vegemite, Bluebird chips and an Ernst Adams Christmas cake have arrived in East Timor and have been distributed around the country to all New Zealand Defence Force personnel.

Plenty of Christmas mail has been arriving from the New Zealand National Support Element in Darwin over the past month. More than 700 large postbags have arrived on both RNZAF C-130 Hercules flights and the regular Cessna flight that is used exclusively by the New Zealand Defence Force to transport stores, equipment, personnel and mail between Darwin and Suai.

Telephones and internet connections, already well utilised for keeping in touch with home, will no doubt they will be very well used in Christmas day!

All members of the New Zealand Defence Force serving in East Timor, where ever they will be celebrating Christmas, will take the opportunity to relax as much as they can on the big day, however they are all well aware that they must remain vigilant and be ready to react to any situation that may occur. While the situation in East Timor is currently calm and stable, the New Zealand Defence Force contribution to the United Nations Transitional Authority in East Timor continues to work hard to keep it that way.

Note: Images of Christmas Eve activities accompany this message.

Captain Denise Mackay
East Timor


Released by Wing Commander John Seward, HQ NZDF Press Officer, Ph: (04) 4960299

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