Christmas in Marshall Islands: Jeptas
When Christmas is still a few months away, the islanders divide themselves into jeptas, which may be thought of as teams. These teams begin practicing the new songs and dances that will be performed from memory on Christmas Day. Each group may perform as many as fifteen to twenty songs. Before Christmas Day, the jeptas visit one another, engaging in competitive songfests in order to show off their skills and assess the competition. In these "surprise attacks” one jepta drops in on another bearing gifts of food and other small items, such as bars of soap and books of matches. The generosity, musical polish, and skill of each group’s chosen orators will be judged and the prestige of each jepta will rise or fall accordingly.
The women also take part in another form of playful competition between the jeptas, known as karate. The preparations made by the jeptas include stockpiling gifts of food that will be distributed to other islanders on Christmas Day. When the women of one jepta spy some men from a rival jepta coming back from a food-collecting mission, the women surround them and steal their food. Nevertheless, the women always leave the men with a meal of some kind. These encounters have become an occasion for much good-natured banter between the sexes and islanders find them extremely amusing.
During Advent, the jeptas perform their songs in front of the church. Each jepta also builds a piñata-like construction, called a wojke, which serves as a kind of Christmas tree. It may take on many shapes, including that of a ship, plane, or bomb. It contains numerous little presents "for God,” such as bars of soap, matches, and money. The teams explode the piñatas at the end of their Christmas Day performances. The gifts are usually collected by the local pastor.