Bringing Christmas to Taiwan

Western holidays are slowly taking over in Taiwan. I have a student, a high schooler, who said he was tired of Chinese New Year (nong li nian) because it was “stuffy, boring, and too long with too many rituals”. He said he liked Western New Year (yuan dan) because it was happy, upbeat, and “high”! “You do a countdown then boom! A new year is here and everybody’s happy and feeling high!!”, he said.

I don’t blame him. Not to be a cultural anthropologist, but there’s a reason the West was able to go so far in such a short time. Yes, not everything the West has done has been right, some of it outright deplorable. They conquered many nations unjustly. But then one has to ask ” how did these cultures fall?” The answer is probably in the fact that these cultures subscribe to a dark world/cosmology view; the world was created by angry gods, jealous of each other. The sun and the moon are deities that will judge us. And there are spirits everywhere, waiting to grab us etc…

Look at traditional Chinese culture/religion: almost everything about it is dealing with the dead. Taiwanese are not at ease about the fate of their loved ones after they depart this world. Taoism teaches that we all go straight to hell. We can get out by some means; till then our relatives must burn money so we will have something to spend. Our funeral must be loud, otherwise we will be cheated by others in hell. Incense must be burned often.

Then there is the land god (tu di gong) who demands our attention and even puppet shows yearly. If one were to follow Taiwanese folk religion to the letter, his/her ENTIRE DAY, EVERYDAY would be involved in some way with the dead. Then there’s the Farmer’s almanac (nong li biao) which tells us when and where we can do what. And so on.

In the midst of this, comes the idea of a baby coming to earth so that God could be among us. Feel our pain. Know our temptations. Pay for our sins.

Just a story? Even if it was just a story, it’s a better one than angry gods and dead spirits. It’s a lot brighter than going straight to hell to be picked on by richer dead people.

Even if it is just a story, why subscribe to a dark world view? Why not a bright one? Why not “God loves me”, instead of ” there are many angry gods and they will smash you if you don’t burn enough incense”?

Why be so dark when a brighter view will do just as well?

Story or not (you decide for yourself, i for one BELIEVE IT), it’s the greatest one ever told. Even children can understand it. Who can understand that burning 3 incenses means “respect for heaven, respect for earth. respect for man”? Who can get that the I-ching means this or that? Certainly not a farmer or truck driver struggling to put food on the table.

God came as a baby and died and rose again because He loved humankind? It’s a good story.Best one I’ve heard, especially since coming to Taiwan.

Merry Christmas to ALL OF YOU, and a Happy, “High” New Year
Ran the Man

About the Author

Ran the Man is a musician,martial artist, language teacher, and defrocked renegade missionary (really). He has spoken Mandarin for over 20 years and been in Taiwan for over 10. He can be found occasionally in some God-forsaken dives in central Taiwan, where he drinks Coke and rum. See more of Ran's musings at his blog - The Truth About Taiwan

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