Living or visiting Taipei during Christmas may not be as good as home, but various hotels, western restaurants, and organizations that are connected to foreigners, do get into the season’s spirit. And so close to New Year’s Eve, there is usually something going on.
By Stuart Hill
It has to be said that if you are not celebrating with your family, Christmas in Taipei sucks. Actually, Christmas ANYWHERE spent alone isn’t very merry. Generally though, Christmas in Taipei just doesn’t seem to register as much of an important event as you’d like. And for most workers, Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and even Boxing Day, are just another day of the week. Ugh!
It wasn’t always the case though. Before the introduction of 2-day weekends — before many public holidays were stolen away by business as “compensation for lost productivity” on a Saturday — Taiwan used to have a holiday on the 25th of December. It was called Constitution Day, in celebration of the passing of the original constitution of the Republic of China. It took roughly 30 years of development, interrupted by China’s political turmoil in the first half of the 20th Century, before the constitution was implemented in 1947. Taiwan is ruled according to that constitution.
Whether it was the realization no-one felt the need to celebrate the ROC constitution or it was considered less essential than traditions like Chinese New Year, Mid-Autumn Festival, Double–Ten, and others, December 25 shifted back to being a day just like any other. And if it fell between Monday to Friday, that meant work.
However, for export businesses, December 25 can actually be a very quiet day for local staff. Overseas western customers tend to stop picking up the phone on December 24 and don’t often pick it up again until early January.
Also, for businesses who have customers that celebrate Christmas, there is often the preparation of Christmas and Happy Holiday cards, emails, special discount promotions, and other forms of marketing that are created and delivered in the lead up to Christmas Day.
Closer to home, Taiwan hotels get in on the holiday cheer with their own form of Christmas menus. This is an extension of the Valentine’s Day, Thanksgiving and Chinese New Years menu concept — where some kind of seasonal theme is added to the menu and customers get charged a fortune for the pleasure.
If you are looking for this kind of thing, you can contact any of the major hotels, larger restaurant chains, the American Club, or checkout www.eztable.com to see where you can get a booking.
Department stores, especially around the shopping districts of XinYi and ZhongXiao FuXing enhance the festive mood with a range of light and tree displays. And these can be worth a look.
On a more traditional note, Christians in Taiwan celebrate Christmas to mark the birth of Jesus with various forms of church services, just like Christians do in other countries. However, as Christianity is a minority religion in Taiwan, the influence on the rest of the population goes fairly unnoticed.
Whether or not they are celebrating Christmas themselves, or have friends and family overseas who may be celebrating, many Taiwanese colleagues will ask about how you are celebrating. So it is not as if the day goes by totally unrecognized. Those that understand the importance of the occasion will sympathize a lot with the lousy feeling of having to work on the holy day.
Merry Christmas anyway.
Some Christmas Tips:
- Schedule a day of leave on the 25th — there is almost nothing worse than having to work on Christmas Day
- Check out various events in the lead up to Christmas and New Year’s Eve organized by both the Taipei and “New Taipei” City governments – details are often found in the local papers or on TV
- If you are buying your gifts online, give yourself at least 3 weeks for them to get to your destination
- Find some other sympathetic foreign friends and catch up with them for at least lunch, if not dinner
- Bring a Christmas pudding with you from somewhere overseas, although you will probably find something expensive in City Super or Jason’s supermarkets
Some experiences from other people in Taipei: