Well, here it is the weekend of Easter. Another one of these celebrations that we ‘foreigners’ celebrate, the school’s want to teach the children, but that don’t really matter.
I was chatting with one of my relatives (matters not which one, cause it’s hard just remembering their names, let alone which side, level, relationship, etc.) yesterday about Christmas. Apparently, she wants to do a “Christmas in July” event, and wondered what Christmas was like in Taiwan. Well, let me tell you.
The first year I was in Taiwan, I was working in Gangshan. The school wanted to put on a Christmas show. They asked if I’d be Santa. Why? Because I was the foreigner! Fair enough. When we think of Santa, we don’t really picture a thin oriental person with black hair!
They had asked me what sort of ‘traditions’ or events did we in Canada do, during Christmas. I spent a better part of week writing (by hand at the time) all the things that we do, right down to little details so they could understand. One of the teachers, who really didn’t like me for some reason (whoopy-doo, who cares!), looked over my two-page document, without reading or translating for the non-English teachers, crumpled it up, threw it in the garbage, and said flat out, “NO!” To say the least, I was a bit pissed. How dare someone who has asked ME to do this up, throw it away without barely looking at it, and say “NO!”
She had ‘created’ a play about Christmas. Santa was supposed to come in at some point, sprinkle dust or some other crap all over a dying mother, and miraculously, the mother would be well. I, of course, immediately refused. The problem that I had was basically, Santa was not GOD, nor was he a doctor. He gives toys to girls and boys! Again, a flat out “NO!”, and I was TOLD that I would do what her play wanted. Again, an argument ensued, and it was decided that at the end of the show, I would come out, and give ‘candy’ (aka food) to the animals! The animals being played by the children.
Now, I really don’t remember a whole lot about that school. The teachers were a little weird, the owner “nickel and dimed” me for everything, to the point that I was lucky to get a paycheck at the end of the month. Off to Tainan…
The schools like to put on Christmas shows for the parents. I don’t know why, because there are not a lot of practicing Christians in Taiwan. From my travel books, the highest concentration of “Christians” is in Tainan, but they only make up less than 10% of the population of Tainan. Christmas is just not a big thing here.
For this auspicious occasion, the children are dressed up in costumes as if it were Hallowe’en. They sing Chinese songs, which have nothing to do with the season, and are usually given about 3 weeks to learn a Christmas song, taught by the foreign teacher. Now really, how many Christmas songs can be taught to kids who barely speak English, in 3 weeks?? Jingle Bells!
Santa (aka foreign teacher) is dressed up in a red Santa suit, with all the trimmings, carrying a bag of candy around, tossing it to the audience. It is supposed to be for the little ones, but it’s usually all the parents and grandparents that come running up, and start grabbing the candy out of Santa’s sack! After a while, Santa begins getting a little ticked off, and politely, but forceably telling these old non-believers that the candy is for the CHILDREN!! Oh, did I mention that in December, the temperature has been as high as 30C!!
The children, during the event, put on a display for the parents. This display is usually a song or two. Again, most of it is in Chinese. I don’t really know too many Chinese Christmas songs, but I’m sure over time, some have been ‘invented’. The younger kids put their heart into it, but the older ones, say 10 and above, seem to view this as the most disgusting thing they’ve ever done. Eyes roll, they barely sing, movements to the song are, well, non-descript. When I try to help out, I am told that the parents wouldn’t understand the movements to the songs. Well, quite frankly, I don’t really think the parents understand the English anyway, and they don’t really care!
All the kids and the parents want, are a few pictures, the gift, and the candy. All I ever hear from the kids is how stupid the gifts are, they don’t like candy canes because they’re ‘too hot’, and that they don’t understand the song. Why do the schools do this? I haven’t the faintest idea. All I know, is that I’m asked, and sometimes begged, to be Santa, because really, what self-respecting local person would dress up in a red Santa outfit in December!
Now, as a footnote to this though, there is one school that has at least tried to engulf the Christmas season. They give the kids time to practice. The kids are taught about what Christmas is about. The foreign teachers uses class time to explain the season and symbols and words surrounding this holiday. The kids seem to understand what it is all about. And for that reason, I really have no problem, and actually ENJOY helping this school to put on the best show possible. Okay, so they still do some Chinese versions of songs that have nothing to do with Christmas, but at least they try!
Now, Christmas is not a surprise holiday. It is always on December 25. However, because of the other ‘holidays’ in Taiwan being calculated by the lunar calendar instead of the solar calendar, most people tend to ‘forget’ when the holiday is. I usually start asking the schools in November about what they are going to do for Christmas, so I can begin my lesson planning.
Nonetheless, for all my North American friends and family, or those of a ‘western culture’, you’ve never experienced a Christmas like this, until you’ve been here. It does make for a rather, uneventful, let’s-get-it-over-with, kind of holiday. Christmas and New Years have always been MY favourite time of year (despite the cold and snow), but over the past 8 years, I’ve grown to sort of wish it wouldn’t happen.
I still do celebrate Christmas, in my own way, on my own, at home. I buy myself a gift, because, well frankly, I’m always a good boy! I usually will buy something special for my cats, and the odd present or two for my closest of friends. It’s been depressing not having family around for the past 8 years in Taiwan to celebrate the holiday. But, as always, the days move on, and soon, it is time to celebrate CHINESE NEW YEAR! Hmmm, I still have a hard time with this one!
“Ching nian quai le”