The cacophony that is Christmas in Timor

Christmas seemed to start here on December 6th. I was in Dili that day, and noticed for the first time that all the shops had put their Christmas decorations up, there were reggae versions of Christmas carols being pumped out of every shop stall, Christmas trees were for sale all over the place, and there were lots of additional temporary stalls out on the streets, selling new items of clothing, toys, and so on. It was a completely different vibe.

In Lospalos, it is not unusual to be awoken around 5.45am (before the electricity goes off for the day – we only have electricity overnight here) by someone playing music very, very loudly. This may be a poor country, but it doesn’t seem to stop the people who can investing in very powerful sound systems. Once we got into Christmas season, the music of choice was things like revved-up Jingle Bells, and We Wish You a Merry Christmas in 4/4. Brahms Lullaby is also apparently a Christmas song in Timor.

One morning in the week before Christmas, we woke up to a mix of three different sound systems, each playing completely different Christmas songs. Add to that the usual soundscape of roosters crowing, pigs squealing and dogs barking, and you have, as Tony commented that morning at 6am, “A real mess out there this morning.”

The cacophony continues even in the church. At mass on Christmas Eve, the automatic rhythm section on the electric organ thumped out its duple time beats, even in songs in 3/4 or compound time, so that O Holy Night ended up as one big hemiola. The choir persevered, as did we, and the effect was actually thoroughly intriguing and engaging.

Minister Januario (who is apparently the minister in charge of electricity and power blackouts – his name is often groaned in irritation when the power goes off suddenly) gave Lospalos a Christmas treat this year – we had electricity almost non-stop from December 24th until December 26th. This was a mixed blessing as far as Tony and I were concerned, because electricity means everyone keeps their music going throughout the whole day. Very bland, white, sexless, nameless pop versions of Christmas carols. We were pretty happy to head to Dili for a break on the 27th. But then we got to Atauro for New Year and the 24-hour music started up again.

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