I got this email from my old friend Mike last week:
I don’t suppose there’s
much going on in Taiwan at Christmas. Do you have any
plans? Do you get a break from teaching? I figure
most people there are Buddhists… do they have
holidays? Maybe the first Buddha’s birthday. I don’t
I guess maybe Christmas here is something worth explaining for those of you back home. I don’t have to teach today, fortunately. At most schools, there is a strong pressure to have a Christmas activity day, though. My first year here, when I was teaching at Sesame Street, I had to go into work and cut out pictures, color them and glue them into books and eat candy with my students. Since the day wasn’t a “real class”, I didn’t even get paid for desecrating the holiday. Thank goodness my current boss is a Canadian who won’t have any of that. His Chinese partner is still organizing some kind of Christmas day activities for the school, but us foreigners don’t have to participate.
There is Christmas here. It’s just completely messed up. All religious aspects of the holiday are missing. Since it’s a religious holiday, that means the Chinese celebrate it quite a bit differently. People do know about Santa Claus, but they also see Christmas as a day to go out and have fun. The idea of staying at home and spending it with your family is a little strange here. As a result, bars, dance clubs, and restaurants all have special Christmas events. To some people it’s a dating holiday, though that idea hasn’t caught on here like it has in Japan. The real family holiday here is Chinese New Year. That’s when everyone in the Orient, by which I mean Greater China, Japan and Korea, gets a vacation and whole families spend time together.
What am I doing for Christmas? Not much. I’m over at my girlfriend’s place, she’s playing World of Warcraft, and I’m just web-surfing trying to decide if I want to play WoW, Age of Empires III, or maybe ready my new Orson Scott Card book. The thing is, I’m not really bummed out about not doing anything Christmassy. The Orient does not really have Christmas, it just has enough little reminders everywhere to alert you to what’s missing: the religious significance, the family gathering, and the eggnog. Why bother to celebrate Christmas in a place that has commercials where everyone watches a big clock count down to zero and then jumps up screaming “Happy Christmas!”?
To me, Christmas is something that only happens at home. I’d rather not go through the motions of some weird Chinese celebration that vaguely resembles Christmas. On the other hand, Christmas will be all the more special to me next time I actually am home for it. I would absolutely love to be at my Grandmother’s house with my entire family right now, but I’m not. I’ll have to settle for a few phone calls again this year.
So does the fact that I’m fine with not doing anything for Christmas for me here mean I’m “settled in”? Does it mean my values are more “Chinese”? Or am I becoming the soulless Mr. Grinch, my old nickname from when I played Warcraft II in the computer labs at CU?