Unlike most, my relationship with Christmas is pretty much like all dysfunctional relationships; lots of mental back and forth on whether its in ones best interest to continue entertaining it or not. Ultimately, although I choose not to rain on the parades of my merry friends during the season, I never got past the idea that the day itself was selected not for what it’s said to honour; Jesus Christ’s birth, but for lesser reasons. Therefore, instead of mounting a Christmas tree, mistletoe and other festive ornaments, I generally resort to observing the efforts of others who simply want to do right by their faith, and lets face it, some who just want to have a good time – which is usually enough to summon my appreciation for the season.
Undeniably, the atmosphere routinely alters once December rolls around no matter where you are in the world, even in countries where Christmas holds little reverence. One would expect that with general indifference to the occasion, living in a country where Christmas is not so much as granted a holiday would be a walk in the park but, instead, it was a tough pill to swallow, as it was for me while I studied in Taiwan.
Although the Republic of China (Taiwan) has a growing Christian population, the country’s folk religions along with Buddhism and Taoism are the most practiced. In fact, on Christmas day, like all other weekdays you are obliged to arrive at your scheduled clock in time at work, or in class and often, as was mostly the case with me, seated for an exam, as the holiday falls towards the end of the Taiwanese school semester. Yet, much due to – I presume – the commercial opportunities Christmas provides, most stores and business establishments will transform their interiors with green and red embellishments while selling Christmas decorations and carefully crafted gift items. Malls as well erect giant Christmas trees indoors or station them outside to attract customers. And on the day itself, your co-workers and classmates may very well show up decked in a Christmas hat or faux reindeer antlers, eager to greet you with an enthusiastic “Shèngdàn jié kuàilè!”
Some too, would attempt to recreate the festive spirit they left back in their home countries by organizing popular Christmas traditions like “exchange of gifts” among friends. Others would arrange to gather around a table at a restaurant or friend’s apartment to create a warm, family-like environment.
As expected, nothing can truly fill the void of absent family, which is the one true, meaningful difference I have come to realize having now returned to Saint Lucia. When Christmas rolls around with its distinctive, loving warmth despite chilling weather, seeing lights strewn along houses while driving through busy Saint Lucian roads at night, laughing with loved ones is unbeatable. Also, having grown up with the songs of Christmas often back dropped by a reggae beat or some quick paced Caribbean melody, generic Christmas carols simply do not suffice. And surely in Taiwan hams and turkeys were not showing up in my room as gifts from well-wishers who wanted me to have not only a Merry Christmas but a full stomach to go along with it. In sum, home really is where the heart, and joy of a festive holiday season, is.