Western cultural imperialism: How Christmas is celebrated


Xmas tree

Originally uploaded by coming2cambodia.
Growing up in Wisconsin, I have always thought the concept of a white Christmas as natural. Moreover, I have seen a plethora of other religion’s holidays being celebrated. When I was young, I bought the idea that Chanukah was the Jewish equivalent of Christmas. Sure, there was no tree, but there were presents, family, large meals, and giving thanks. Later, I came to see that the extent to which Chanukah is celebrated is more a reflection on western-Christian imperialism and less a reflection on faith.

When I moved to Chile in high school, I experienced my first Christmas away from home. The shocking part of this experience was the continuity of it. Chile, being in the southern hemisphere, has Christmas in the middle of summer. It was completely surreal to me to be in 102 degree heat, sweating, wearing a tank top, and decorating a small, silver, tree. Even more bizarre was seeing the Christmas displays in the malls filled with fake snow, snowmen, and heavy winter jackets worn by manikins of white children. Although parts of the states never have snow on Christmas, the realm of possibility for a white Christmas is even further away in the southern hemisphere. Clearly, American commercialism had won another battle—it had convinced South America that Christmas means snow—even if its over 100 degrees out.

I can’t say that I expected to write about Christmas in conjunction with Taiwan (or any part of this blog). For one thing, I came a week after the New Year. More importantly, I don’t think of Taiwan as a particularly Christian country. Although some Taiwanese are Christian, they are the minority. Yet, everywhere we went, I was surrounded by reminders of Christmas. Stores hung signs that read “Merry Christmas”, hotels decorated Christmas trees, and garland hung from many doorways. As I looked at these trees, often multi-colored and flashing, I could not help but wonder how seeing blatant, constant, and lavish symbols of a minority faith is internalized and what else America is exporting.

In the United States we are becoming ever more a Christian country. Not in that the number of Christians is growing, but in that the lack of acceptance of religious minorities, especially Muslims, is growing. Some even criticized a Muslim elect for congress for putting his hand on the Koran instead of a Bible in a private ceremony! Do we really need to give politicians a history lesson on why America was founded? Does religious freedom ring a bell? Could it?!

But, I digress. Back to the Taiwanese Christmas trees. What else are we exporting? I guess, for me, at least in this short trip, a conceptualization of beauty was the other poignant point. So many of the women I saw in Taiwan were stunning; they were also extremely stylish. Yet, the beauty magazines taught Taiwanese girls how to look more western; numerous methods were used to create larger, more western-looking eyes with double eyelids. Billboards, which I could make out without speaking any Chinese, advertised surgeries to create double eyelids. When searching for sun block—I had foolishly left mine in Taichung with Sylvia’s parents—I found more creams that promised to whiten my skin than those to protect me from the sun. These creams helped bleach the skin and give the person (woman) a whiter appearance.

Beauty is not static as some like to believe. With time and place, it has morphed. Yet, right now, the American led skinny (often anorexic), big eyed, big lipped, light skinned female is considered the ultimate beauty; and people, especially women, go to great lengths to achieve, or at least more towards, these standards. The saddest part of this is that many of the beautiful women I saw in Taiwan cannot see their own natural beauty.

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