This week, we celebrated Easter. It’s funny, during this time last year, I was reflecting on the things I could be grateful for, Lent, and how the “givens” in our world weren’t so given after all. This year, I’m still doing that, but from Taiwan. I recently finished helping to run the Lent series: a blog project by the Yale Logos in collaboration with Duke Crux where we posted devotional reflections for every day of Lent. I found the practice of fasting from doom scrolling in bed and writing out three things I’m grateful for everyday really helpful even though my faith tradition doesn’t typically observe Lent. It’s one of my monthly resolutions that I’ll be continuing even though the month is over.
I was really thrown off yesterday at church when instead of plastic eggs with candy, I was handed a singular salted duck egg wrapped to look like a bright pink piece of candy.
“You can have it with porridge!” someone in Sunday school explained to me when I asked about it, “Or if you’re scared to eat it, give it to your grandma. She’ll know what to do.”
When people ask me how Christians celebrate Christmas or Easter in Taiwan, I mostly respond by saying that I don’t really know (clearly) but whatever it is, it’s very low key. Taiwan is not culturally Christian, so that makes sense. But these questions have made me think a lot about what makes holidays feel like holidays. In hindsight, I realize that I was really missing the parts of these holidays that I kind of groan about in the States. I didn’t feel a sudden influx of people in the pews at church, and the commercial aspects of the holidays: plastic eggs, aggressive retailing, and Christmas music everywhere were gone. I didn’t realize how much I’ve conflated the traditions we have around religious holidays with the holidays themselves.
What is Christmas without a Christmas tree? Still Christmas, actually. What is Easter without taking cute photos in pastels? Still Easter. At least for Christians, that’s how it should be. This year, Easter corresponded with Qingming Festival, a tomb-sweeping holiday in which some people go to honor their ancestors. Schools have their equivalent of spring break around this time to allow for people to travel, gather with family, or bai bai (pray, pay respects, worship). This is a much bigger deal in Taiwan, but it’s not really commercialized. Maybe this is because of the solemn nature of the holiday, but neither was Lunar New Year. Or at least, Lunar New Year was not as big as I thought it would be. The whole American idea that we need to buy a bunch of stuff to feel like we’ve done the holidays is really weird. It’s one of those things like asking “How are you?” that I’ve always taken for granted and never really interrogated deeply until now. I’m not saying that people are somehow immune to commercializing holidays in Taiwan (I mean, someone has to make these salted duck eggs right?) or that buying Easter baskets is morally bad.
But I am saying that I expected everyone to go ALL OUT for the holidays because, on some level, that’s what I thought celebrating the holidays looked like. People have the option to do that here. Malls and pop up stores here do sell a ton of decorations, but people don’t really buy them at the same volume as people do in the States. It’s telling that my church handed everyone one (1) egg on Sunday out of baskets. It wasn’t one basket per kid.
I’m definitely not the first to notice that America overcommercializes holidays. My friends and I always complain about it when Halloween decorations come up right after Labor Day or Peeps roll out a Pumpkin Spice product. But we have a choice in how much we want to play into it. Given what I’ve seen in Taiwan, my own parents’ decisions around the holidays seem a lot less like being cheap and a lot more like trying to give us the best of both worlds.