Samoa's White Sunday, A Day of Family and Thanksgiving

Photo Credit: John and Karen Krogh's Blog, White Sunday, LMS Church

White Sunday is a Samoan holiday that is celebrated in almost every Samoan community around the world, from U.S. military bases abroad to New Zealand and Australian neighborhoods, and of course in American and Western Samoa.

The origin of White Sunday is lightly debated but the meaning of White Sunday is not. In Samoan, White Sunday is referred to as Lotu Tamaiti, or Children's Service. The general practice of the day is that children are given the responsibility of planning the church service. The children practice for several weeks before the big day, often putting on skits from Bible stories, singing songs, and often the older children will be responsible for the day's sermon or message. At the following to'ana'i or family feast the children are served first and in many families the children are excused from chores.

From where and when does White Sunday originate? The most believable version of its origins is that it started from the aftermath of the 1919 influenza epidemic in which 20% to 25% of the Samoan population in Western Samoa died from the flu. Some controversey exists regarding the degree of ambivalence from the New Zealand administrators. One, American source, states that the U.S. government offered medical aid for the Samoans living in the western half of the archipelago that could have and would have saved a lot of lives, but that the New Zealand administrators at the time declined or ignored the offer. In any case, every Samoan family was visited with multiple tragedies and many of those who died were children. It is believed that White Sunday was both a way of bringing families together to remember those who had died and to celebrate the lives of the children who had lived.

While I cannot relate with confidence any of the other origin stories for White Sunday, I would like to note that in Samoa the normal attire for a funeral is also white, which lends credence to this origin-story.