On the last day of December, the Tristan Islanders celebrate Old Year’s Night rather than New Year’s Eve. However, according to the official Tristan da Cunha Website, this year there have been some changes in their normal holiday patterns.
The late arrivals of two major supply ships, the MV Baltic Trader on December 19 and the MV Edinburgh the next day, interfered with the traditional schedule of activities. Crews unloading the ships had to keep working right up to Christmas Eve, and they were expecting to resume work between Christmas Day and Old Year’s Night. The annual Sheep Shearing Day, usually held at the Patches three miles from the Settlement the Saturday before Christmas, will be rescheduled in January.
Normally, everyone on Tristan da Cunha looks forward to Break Up Day in the middle of December, when everything on the island more or less shuts down for a three week holiday. Families stock up with supplies from the island store ahead of time, though people have some access to their supplies in the freezers during the holidays. The Internet Café and the Administration Office are open only during limited hours, the doctor provides services as needed, staff members keep the generator running, and the pub is closed.
Old Year’s Night is a celebration of mid-summer on the island. The Administrator holds a reception for the Tristan men on the lawn of the Residency, if the weather is good. Everyone watches for the appearance of the elaborately costumed “Green Men.” Also referred to as Okalolies, these masked men move around the village during the afternoon of Old Year’s Night and attempt to scare women, children, and dogs (see some fine photos). The party then shifts to the home of the Chief Islander where the Green Men sometimes unmask—so that they can have a drink.
The revelers then break up and go to their separate homes to continue toasting in the new year with a braai, a South African style barbecue. Many simply move down to the beach to send off the old year with a driftwood fire under the stars.
Peter Munch described similar festivities in his 1937 – 1938 diary of his visit to Tristan, which his daughter published in 2008. The mummery—dressing in women’s clothing, blackening faces, wearing hats with flowers, and putting on cows’ tails—was an important part of the December 31 overnight celebration that year. The men danced, sang, and visited nearly all the houses. The mean-spirited missionary who tried to rule the Islanders at the time dampened the spirits of the people to some extent, but Munch and the other Norwegians visitors that summer enjoyed participating in the all-night revelry nonetheless.