Christmas in Taiwan

Our Christmas tree finally came down yesterday. Is it normal to keep the tree up this long? I can’t remember anymore. I wanted to take it down on Jan. 1st, but my boyfriend, Bi, argued that we should keep it up a little longer since we were so late putting it up this year. I can be such a Grinch, but I was the one who convinced him we needed to buy a Christmas tree in the first place.  Neither of us intended to keep it up this long though.  I do feel that Christmas overstayed its welcome in our living room this year.

Good riddance … until next year.

I’ve experienced a few Christmases in Taiwan now but this last Christmas felt a little strange for me. On Christmas Day I did a little reflecting as I played Tomb Raider Anniversary after talking to my family on a frustratingly fickle Skype connection. While there are many similarities, Christmas in Taiwan is, not surprisingly, very different than what I was used to in Canada. Christmas is celebrated in Taiwan in a similar fashion to Halloween or St. Patrick’s Day in Canada. People recognize the day by going to parties and wearing appropriate seasonal clothing. Each year, increasingly more businesses get in on the celebrations by decorating and, like Canada, end up leaving their lights up all year long. Christmas music begins blasting in every store and restaurant as early as November, while some people can’t handle the anticipation and Christmas trees begin popping up before Halloween!

I’m smiling on the outside, but screaming on the inside. … Also silently through my grinding teeth.

I’m smiling on the outside, but screaming on the inside. … Also silently through my grinding teeth.

The traditional and festive side of me really appreciates the mood and feeling of Christmas that exists in Taiwan in December. However, reality does eventually set in that things aren’t the same and will never be the same as the Christmas season in Canada.

For example, English teachers are busy! Perhaps this is the same for all teachers who live in countries that celebrate Christmas, but I was so focused on everything I needed to do that when Christmas Eve finally arrived I had a difficult time believing that it was finally the big day. The weeks leading up to Christmas Day are full of Christmas show meetings, practices, decorating, shopping, and gift-giving, on top of the load of regular classes. Then come the Christmas activities …

I love my job.

I love my job.

… and Christmas shows …

I love my job.

I love my job.

… and Christmas parties.

I love my job.

I love my job.

All of this results in a stressful Christmas season and a frustrated rush to get caught up again in the neglected lessons that are left in the wake of all the Christmas activities. Then comes the immediate realization that final exams and report cards will need to be completed within a few weeks, hence the reason for my two-month-long hiatus as well as this late Christmas post.

Besides the hustle and bustle, a rather depressing reality for expats can sink in on Christmas Day: the realization that Christmas gatherings are rather non-existent. Of course this isn’t true for everyone. Many people have family here or create their own “families”, but for many people the Christmas season is more or less a reminder that they are far from their loved ones, and attempt to remain numb to the fact that somewhere in the world their family is sitting down to a fancy meal, all speaking a language they’re familiar with, before unwrapping presents in front of a warm fireplace, all while they are sitting down to a shallow box of fried rice before playing Tomb Raider Anniversary in front of a noisy dehumidifier. Again, not all expats in Taiwan share this Christmas experience; however, it is a likely scenario since many people don’t get Christmas Day off from work and most people act as though it’s just any other day, only with a little more chocolate passed around.

To be honest, this last Christmas was mildly depressing for me. It was my plan for weeks to spend the day alone on the couch playing Wii while it rained outside. I was excited at the thought that I could relax in the afternoon and evening after I taught my morning classes. However, as the reality set in that I was alone for most of Christmas Day, I began to feel like something important was missing. When Bi got home from work, we went out for a nice steak dinner, and that made me feel much better. However, I learned that I need to make a couple changes for next year so that I don’t end up having another blue, blue Christmas. For example, I should take the day off so I can sleep in and have a proper breakfast. I should send Christmas gifts to family and friends earlier so that they arrive before Christmas, not after. I should make sure the Internet company is set on speed-dial just in case the Internet decides to stop working again like it did this year so I have an uninterrupted Skype call with my family. I should celebrate with Bi and our close friends, if possible, to feel that sense of family.

The negative feelings I had at Christmas seem very far behind me. We had a small gathering with a few friends the following weekend and it relieved my craving for a Christmas party. Now that I am back on schedule in my classes and my exams and report cards are completed I’m starting to make some serious plans for Chinese New Year, the big Christmas-sized holiday in Taiwan. I get about a week off and I’m going to make sure I do it right.

So wherever you are, I hope you had a happy, safe, and warm Christmas and that the new year brings you all the joy in the world!

All the love from Taiwan!