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Taiwan Christmases

A Letter from Jonathan and Emily Seitz, serving in Taiwan

December 2018

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In Taiwan, we get to see the life of the church through the ministry of our Taiwanese friends, and it’s helped me see the biblical accounts of Christmas with new eyes. Here are several lessons I have learned from the church in Taiwan:

    • Christmas in Chinese is “Holy Birthday Festival.” It shares the word “holy” with the “Holy Scriptures” (the Bible) and the “Holy Spirit.” Its name announces that Christmas is about a holy birth, and it is also a festival (and there are many Taiwanese festivals).
    • For churches, the story of Jesus’s birth is central. While some churches do special services or pageants, the story is the key. Taiwan still isn’t very liturgical, and Christmas is basically a month of singing Christmas songs and celebrating Jesus’ birth.

Eva and Eli Seitz enjoying a Taipei Christmas.

  • In Taiwan, Christmas is usually a workday. In the past, it was nominally “Constitution Day,” but now most people continue with work, and students go to school. Sometimes, we have sent our kids to school for a half-day or whole day so they could do the simple activities that occur on Christmas (like exchanging simple presents “Secret Santa” style, doing a craft, or watching a movie).
  • Christmas is often an opportunity for witness. Churches sometimes hold banquets as a chance to invite friends to worship on Christmas or to meet others in the church. I’ve had students share that they sometimes pass out flyers for worship on Christmas morning in the hopes of attracting friends or strangers to hear the story. Like funerals or weddings, Christmas in Taiwan is often a chance to share the story of Jesus’ birth.
  • As in the US, there’s more and more pageantry in Taiwanese society about Christmas, but it’s basically understood as just a commercial, “fun” celebration. We still fondly remember Sam’s first Christmas in Taiwan, when we went to his school for a party and discovered it was a costume party (imagine a Christmas party with kids dressed as dinosaurs and superheroes). In many ways, the cultural celebration is still fairly lighthearted and doesn’t carry the same stress many folks in the US feel about this time of year.

The truth is, I love the US holidays, with the Service of Carol and Lessons, Christmas Eve midnight services, children’s pageants, and parties that cluster around Christmas. More of these are coming to Taiwan. At the same time, I’m also grateful that in Taiwan the message is still a little simpler, a little less overwhelmed by shopping and holiday stress, a little more focused on church community life and the message of Jesus’s birth in Bethlehem 2000 years ago.

Please pray for the church in Taiwan. As I watch friends’ updates, I see that many of them are trying to make sense of Taiwan’s midterm elections (see articles here, here, and here). We are also praying for the Presbyterian Church in Taiwan and the new Taiwan Ecumenical Forum as it tries to advocate for Taiwan, which has been in international limbo for decades. Pray especially for seminarians and churches as they prepare for Christmas services.

This is our tenth year in PC(USA) service, and our second Christmas stateside (the last one was 2012). 2018 was a good year for us. This year our newsletters talked about Taiwanese youth, our regular ministry work, gratitude, and church travels in the US. We’re especially grateful to the churches that have sustained us and encouraged us during this time. This month we’re thankful for visits to Centre Presbyterian Church in New Park, PA, and the way they hosted me, and also to Arvada Presbyterian Church outside of Denver, Colorado. I am also grateful that I had the chance to see Presbyterians at the Parliament of the World’s Religions and at Stony Point Center in New York; to connect with a former student, Su-chi Lin, at another conference; and to see two classmates/former coworkers over Thanksgiving. I have not always been a relaxed traveler, but I am finding now that I really enjoy these visits. Christmas is about that also — about meeting friends on the road, sleeping in new towns, and receiving unexpected traveling mercies.

Merry Christmas! 聖誕節快樂!Jonathan & Emily


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