Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Taiwanese Traditions: They Don't Include Christmas

The Hello Kitty Store all dressed for Christmas, sort of
Christmas in Taoyuan City

My kids are big fans of Christmas, but since we’ve been here Christmas hasn’t been that exciting to them. They’re used to Christmas in America. In Taiwan, there's little Christmas cheer. Only a few stores decorate for Christmas, people look surprised when you wish them a Merry Christmas. And nobody decorates their home, and I mean nobody.

So for us there is something missing at Christmastime, and if I’m totally honest I almost missed hearing Christmas music, every minute of every day. Okay, maybe not, but it does kind of remind you that Christmas is coming. In Taiwan, one day it’s October and the next is Christmas. Hey, what happened to all the pre-Christmas hoopla?

Looking West on my street,  December 24, 2010
 There were no Christmas parties. There were no Christmas lights. There were no Christmas sales ads. There wasn’t a “Black Friday” if you can imagine. Why no “Black Friday?” because there’s no Thanksgiving. So, all of the traditional markers of the Christmas season were missing.

I’m here as a Christian missionary, so we had a Christmas tree in our home and we sang Christmas Carols and preached on the meaning of Christmas. The church even had a Christmas fellowship and made Huǒ Guō (Hot Pot). This is a soup and everyone brings ingredients to put in the soup: To borrow a phrase from humorist Pat McMahon, it’s a kind of “Whatcha-got stew.”

We also bought or made gifts for people. My wife made a variety of Christmas cookies and gave them to a number of people. We also bought gifts for children and special friends. People were surprised that we would give them a gift. One friend, who had lived in the US for a short time said, “Oh, I didn’t prepare anything, I forgot about this part of American culture.”

It isn't much, but I guess we win the Christmas decoration contest this year

That’s the whole thing, right there. Taiwanese people think of Christmas and Christianity in general, as part of American culture. Ninety-four percent of Taiwanese people practice Buddhism or some form of Daoism so they don’t celebrate Christmas. They have a time with the same kind of feeling, Chinese New Year. This year it is on February 3rd and they have begun to decorate the streets for that. There is a beautiful light display that just went up at the park near our house. In this time people will give gifts of food and merchandise to loved ones, including the traditional hóng bāo; the red packet containing a financial gift.

Ahhh, Christmas in America; it's a little different than Taiwan

Thanks to Chris Seaman for this photo of his house.

Other posts you may be interested in:

American Presence:  What I Don't Miss in Taiwan
Random Asianess:  Oh Sure, Now We Decorate

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