Some quick anecdotes:
1. Christmas 2004: My manager at a big chain school here made me dress up like Santa Claus to hand out gifts to the kids. I was a 24-year-old woman: my ho-ho-hos were fooling no one, including the preschool and kindergarten students. (Incidentally, the mask reeked of my co-worker’s coffee breath and I almost puked.)
The parents bought and wrapped the gift themselves. We put them in a big black garbage bag, and I handed them out. Some parents had taken Christmas-gift-giving very seriously and had lovely boxes professionally wrapped at the department store. Other parents didn’t put as much effort in–most people in Taiwan aren’t Christian, Christmas isn’t traditionally celebrated here, and people typically exchange red envelopes stuffed with cash during Chinese New Year, not gifts. Some students got pretty packages with shiny wrapping paper, and some kids got shitty toys in plastic bags.
The next day, two of my little girls ran up to me all upset and asked me why I gave Melody FOUR Pearl Mermaid coloring books, but I gave Vivian TWO Pearl Mermaid coloring books. “It wasn’t me, it was your parents!” is what I wanted to say, but instead I told them to wait. I ran down to the manager to ask her what she wanted me to do now that I had ruined Christmas for kids who wouldn’t even be celebrating it if everyone wasn’t trying to cash in.
“Just keep telling them it wasn’t you, it was Santa,” she said with a laugh.
“They’re six, not stupid!” I told her.
2. Christmas past: This isn’t even my anecdote, but only because I’d already had such a bad experience that I wouldn’t think of doing this. A Chinese teacher (just clarifying that it wasn’t a foreigner’s hopeful idea) arranged a gift-exchange for her students. All the gifts had a limit of NT$50-$100 (US$3 max), so not a whole lot. But the same thing happened: some students parents went above and beyond with fancy gifts in fancy paper, and some kids were sent to class with shitty secondhand toys that nobody played with anymore. The kids who got the great gifts were pumped, but the kids who got the shitty gifts were totally bummed. And because not losing face is so important here, the kids who gave the shitty gifts were crying by the end of it all. And you can’t exactly tell them that Christmas isn’t about gifts, because it isn’t about anything else here.
3. Christmas party last night: Everyone brought a gift that cost about NT$500 (US$15). You can actually get quite nice stuff for that amount. Most people got gifts from Costco. We (still) don’t have a Costco membership, so we bought two bottles of wine from Carrefour (grocery store; not the best place to buy wine but we think we did okay for fifteen bucks). J drew before me and got a gift-set of anti-dandruff shampoos. Based on what I know about Taiwanese culture, that still doesn’t make any fucking sense. Who gives anti-dandruff shampoo for a gift?! Especially if any random person is going to get it at a party? Ironically, he has no hair and I’ve been shampoo-free for about two months now. But even if we were both into regularly shampooing our lovely, Fabian locks, it’s a bummer of a gift. Even the dude who got the chamber pot got a bottle of liquor inside. You can’t drink anti-dandruff shampoo.
Being a big kid at heart, J said he wanted to open the gift I drew, too, and I let him because I wanted to see him smile. He got a box of incense sticks and three car air-fresheners. It reminded me totally of that Friends Christmas episode when Joey and Chandler wait til the last minute to go shopping and end up buying everybody’s gifts at the gas station.
And then Ross gets two cans of off-brand soda is like, “This is too much. I’ll have to get you another sweater.” That’s basically how I felt, so I guess that makes me a petty bitch who doesn’t know the true meaning of Christmas, but man, C— got three little mini cast iron skillets with cookie mix and I got car fresheners for the car we don’t own, so by the end of it I was like, man, just give me my Puppy Chow and let me get out of here. J said I can buy the Hunter boots I’ve been wanting so I don’t even care about that anti-dandruff shampoo.
So Christmas in Taiwan is still under negotiation as not everyone is on the same page. Got any cool stories to share?