I visit the tropics of Fiji to inject warmth into my weary demeanour.

Sunday, and I attend the local church – the hotel manager insisting that if I am to do such a foolhardy thing I need a car and driver. I am escorted only a quarter of a mile. To the driver’s horror I refuse the offer of collection after the service.

Villagers in best clothes (hats for women); men sitting on one side, women on the other in the immaculate whitewashed Methodist church.  A white-gloved hand patting an invitation to sit on wood worn by two centuries of souls. Lengthy sermons and prayers. Christmas carols. Harmonies super-glued to each other and voices as pure as faith itself. Joyous sound washing over the packed congregation, the texture belying the untrained voices. I recognise the tunes but not the words, but soon find that Fijian is written phonetically so I join in with the odd chorus from the book loaned to me by Verity, the name proudly scribed on the front. Children giggle and nudge. Adults counter with smiles and nods of appreciation.

Photos outside – everyone wanting to pose outside the church (it’s important to get the huge cross in the background) and have their photo taken with me. Some are not wearing shoes and will return to cardboard box floors and carrier bag windows.

An invitation to share a meal with them tonight as a thank you for attending their church. Forced to keep a distance from the hotel, they plan to host a night-time feast down on the beach. If I give them money for the food. Knowing I am probably contributing to the week’s menu for the whole village I willingly risk seeing nothing for my dollars. Dinner in the hotel would cost more.

Vasemaca and Esther are waiting at the hotel perimeter and shepherd me through trees to the shore. (“Don’t use your torch – the hotel staff might see. Or the military”.) The thought crosses my mind that this might not be one of my saner moments.

A stumble through vegetation, flaming torches eventually lit and bright enough to lead us to our destination. They are true to their word. A fire pit dug in the sand; the warmest of welcomes. Chicken, fish and vegetables expertly swaddled in palm over a lattice of leaves and vying for the teasing embers of the fire.

Enough food for all of us and more. Hands cradle the cans of lager I have brought as a gift as they had requested. More photos, the flash capturing the widest of smiles against the delicious dark sky.

We reprise our common bond – the Christmas carols – singing in 2 languages simultaneously around the flames of friendship. The night isn’t silent, there’s no holly or ivy, but there is joy to the world.

With precious memories built on trust in total strangers I fly back in time for Christmas at home. But I’ve already had the best festive meal ever.