Christmas is probably one of the most widely celebrated public holidays in the world, even by non-Christians (although you may or may not be aware it actually was a pagan holiday to begin with and was later “adopted” by Christians). Christmas Celebrated In Taiwan coming right around the corner, we thought we would tell you about how Christmas came to Taiwan and how it’s celebrated. In Taiwan, Christians only make up about 5% of religions, but if you’re in a more metropolitan area, you’ll still see holiday decorations and shopping deals in malls. But first, we’ll talk about when and how Christmas came to Taiwan. We’ll also explore the gift-giving customs, generational differences, other holidays, whether Taiwanese schools observe Christmas, and religions in Taiwan.
How Is Christmas Celebrated In Taiwan?
When did Christmas come to Taiwan?
Before 2001, December 25 was only observed as Constitution Day. Even though Constitution day marks the promulgation of the Constitution of the Republic of China in 1947, it did not become an official holiday until 1963. During that time, the US had a large military presence in Taiwan and missed having their jolly December celebrations back home, so they asked then-leader Chiang Kai-shek to declare a public holiday. As it happened, Constitution Day was already on December 25, which is why he chose that date.
As store owners gradually began to see customers take advantage of Christmas sales in the early 2000s, more followed suit. The meaning of the holiday has become very inflated and is mostly used to boost consumerism. The same is true in the US, but in Taiwan, even fewer understand the true meaning of the holiday. Many Taiwanese citizens take advantage of the Christmas holiday sales to purchase gifts for Lunar New Year just like you may have done the same with Black Friday sales for Christmas.
One of the most well-known locations to celebrate Christmas in Taiwan is Christmasland (耶誕城) in New Taipei City (新北市). It is almost like a Disneyland in and of itself, complete with light installments, markets, concerts, carnivals, an amusement park, and is near hotels. Some other places that are alight with festivities are Gloriday in Taoyuan district (桃園縣) and Jiqin Christmas Alley (吉慶聖誕巷) in Beitou district (北投區). Since there is no direct translation for Santa Claus in Mandarin, he is actually referred to as 聖誕老人 (Shèng Dàn Lâo Rén) in Mandarin, which literally translates to “Christmas Old Man.”
As with every culture, there are some important gift-giving customs to keep in mind so that you don’t accidentally offend anyone. Of course, many people may be more forgiving toward foreigners. Some of the younger generations may not even be fully aware of all the customs. Taiwanese people tend to initially refuse a gift and only accept it after some polite insistence. They usually don’t open gifts in front of the giver, which is something to remember so that you don’t find yourself waiting for them to open the gift, as is customary in the US. Try to avoid giving an odd number of gifts—odd numbers are considered unlucky. White is associated with funerals, so avoid wrapping gifts with this color.
If you are at a loss on what gift to give, you can’t go wrong with a food basket or high-quality alcohol. While it is considered unusual to gift cash in the US, it is actually very common in Taiwan. These are usually given as wedding gifts, birthday gifts, or during Lunar New Year celebrations. The cash is put in red envelopes called 紅包 (Hóng Bāo). Accepting red envelopes with one hand is considered rude. They should always be accepted with both hands. Gifting scissors or knives indicate that you want to end a relationship, so it is best to avoid those kinds of gifts.
Generational differences in Christmas celebrations
The younger generation (Gen Z and millennials) make the most Christmas purchases in Taiwan, but to most older generations, December 25 is merely another day. During this time, it is not uncommon to see a large crowd of people at Costco’s poultry section waiting in line for a roast chicken to go with their Christmas dinner.
What non-Christmas holidays are celebrated around the same time?
In Taiwan, there are only two non-Christmas holidays celebrated in December: Winter solstice and Constitution day (the same day as Christmas). Winter solstice usually falls around the 20th to the 23rd, and it is called 冬至 (Dōng Zhì) in Mandarin. Solstices and equinoxes are not given much attention in the US with the exception of spiritual and pagan folks, but in Taiwan, they are heavily emphasized. The celebrations go beyond the ones that mark the turn of the four seasons. The Taiwanese actually observe 24 seasonal celebrations called 節氣 (Jié Qì, Solar Terms). The solar terms are calculated according to the position of the sun, which divides the year into 24 terms.
The terms are closely followed by farmers and practitioners of Traditional Chinese medicine. In Traditional Chinese medicine, it is believed that there are specific effects of each solar term on the human body, and different methods of treatment are used during different terms. One particular method of treatment is known as Moxibustion, aka Moxa (灸, jiû), and it is done by burning Chinese mugwort near specific parts of the body. Illnesses that require moxibustion include allergies, indigestion, low immunity, etc.
Do Taiwanese schools observe Christmas?
Since Christmas is not considered a public holiday in Taiwan, local schools carry on as usual on the 25th of December every year. An exception is international schools, which may have their own calendar and differentiated holidays.
What is the official religion of Taiwan?
Taiwan is known as one of the most religiously-diverse countries. You may know why if you’ve read our previous article on indigenous tribes in Taiwan. The three most prominent religions in Taiwan are Buddhism, Taoism, and Confucianism. It’s important to note that the latter two are categorized as cultural beliefs or philosophies rather than religions, but we will refer to them as religions for ease of use. Many Taiwanese temples actually represent all three religions. The “Four Noble Truths” is one of the core Buddhist teachings, and it includes the “Noble Eightfold Path,” which Buddhists believe may eliminate existential suffering.
Taoism is also known as Daoism and comes from the teachings of Laozi (老子). A Taoist concept that you may recognize is Yin and Yang, which represents the harmony of multiple dichotomies, including light and dark, good and bad, masculine and feminine, etc.
Confucianism comes from the teachings of Confucius (孔子) and promotes familial relationships, duty, loyalty, and respect. Though he lived from 551 BCE to 479 BCE, many of his teachings are ingrained in Taiwanese society today, just like how the influence of the ancient Greeks can still be seen in Western societies.
We hope you learned some new things about how Christmas is celebrated in Taiwan! Has it sparked some more curiosity about what it would like to travel to Taiwan during the holidays? The winter weather on the island is super mild, making it a comfortable Christmas travel destination if you’re usually decked in scarves, gloves, and a huge coat in December. Feel free to reach out to us if you’re interested in booking a trip with WildChina.
Sources: How Is Christmas Celebrated In Taiwan?