Reflections on a Taiwanese Christmas

Christmas came and went and I got to thinking, how was it that I came to learn the true meaning of Christmas in Taiwan?

When I was little, there was hardly any mention of Christmas in Taiwan. Maybe a few decorations were put up at the department stores but that was it. No one I knew celebrated it. The day came and went and that was that. Then I moved to the States and realized what a big deal it was—all the presents and photos with Santa Claus, decorating the tree, singing all the songs at school, and giant dinners with family and friends. Then as I grew older, Christmas grew to become more of a pain—all the shopping and cooking and wrapping and giant dinners with family and friends you don’t necessarily want to see. I began to see Christmas as a major stressful ordeal that required too much money and obligatory time with the in-laws.

Back in Taiwan as an adult, I have seen so much more of Christmas than I remembered as a child. Decorations were up everywhere last month—the post office, the schools, even on the buses! The supermarkets and malls were playing Christmas music on their PA systems, and the local schools hosted Christmas recitals with gift exchanges between the students.

What is refreshing about Christmas here is how it is celebrated in a way that is closer to the original pagan holiday than the ones associated with Christianity in the States. People here are often surprised when I tell them that Christmas is considered a Christian holiday in the States and people celebrate it as the birth of Jesus. It is also refreshing that Christmas is not associated with mandatory shopping here. There were no giant sales at department stores counting down the number of days you’ve got to find that one amazing gift for that finicky person on your list. It was really nice to celebrate a peaceful holiday with my immediate family without the stress of consumerism. To spend a day just being thankful for all you have, thankful that although it is cold outside, you’ve got a terrific family to snuggle up against and to just enjoy the moment with. Now isn’t that the true meaning of Christmas?

About the Author

Chieni was born in Taiwan and moved to the States permanently when she was 12. This means she grew up both in Taiwan and in the US. Now she looks at Taiwan both as an insider and an outsider. She is an insider because she speaks the language and knows some of the customs. She is an outsider because she doesn’t always understand the customs. She has a beautiful little girl now to show off to her family and the locals.

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