Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Fa Ra Ra Ra Ra

Christmas decorations are going up here in Taiwan. Trees, lights, giant Santas and snowmen, and candy canes. Fifteen foot reindeers leap out of the facade of a local department store. McDonald's employees wear Santa hats, and those tunes you know so well play from every PA system all the time.

So much attention paid to decorating, and yet it feels nothing at all like the Christmas that I know. It doesn't feel special at all. I understand that the real meaning of the holiday and the atmosphere it creates in places where it is truly revered may be lost in translation to many Taiwanese. I don't expect Western traditions and culture to always carry over to other places. I'm just confused as to why so much effort is put into the visual manifestation of Christmas here in Taiwan. 

I mainly see the decorating and Christmas references in stores and restaurants and places trying to sell me stuff. It seems that Christmas advertising must be  alluring to the average consumer here, since the stores are pretty much unified in their embrace of Christmas imagery. There are even specialty shops popping up that sell ornaments, trees, signs, and other brickabrack. It would seem that the Taiwanese are just as nuts about Christmas as Americans.

And yet when I mention it to any of my students or local friends or coworkers, it seems that they have a good idea of what it is, but no personal ties to it or tradition in celebrating it. I ask kids what they get for Christmas, and most say that they either don't celebrate it, or don't really give or get presents. Apparently the big gift giving holiday is Chinese New Year. Cash is exchanged in red envelopes, and kids and adults go shopping for new clothes or PlayStations or whatever they fancy.

So if the major consumer holiday is CNY, which is a full month after XMAS this year, then why is so much effort put into Christmas related advertising here? Is there a consumer force backing it up, or is is simply a novelty factor? Maybe it's all of the surplus decorations and fake snow and plastic trees making their way across the straight from China. Whatever it is, it's not enough to inspire any warm fuzzy feelings in the cold bones of this foreigner.

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