Christmas 2008: Torches! Torches!

We got home a few hours ago from Christmas 2008 in Tungpu. As usual, not much sleep. Unlike usual, was much less chaos. This was because we only had 5 people sleeping at Lini and Abus' house--instead of 19 or 20... (then, every flat space on every floor and every chair is occupied).

Christmas is not a holiday in Taiwan. Kids have to go to school. People have to go to work. My students at the National Pingtung University of Science and Technology gave me Christmas as a present when they agreed that we didn't need to have class today. New Years, however, is a 4-day weekend. Not sure why.

I taught all morning Christmas Eve. I didn't get home until about 2:30. Then, I had to edit one of AD's translations. We didn't even make it into the car to start driving to Tungpu until after 5. We bought pork jerky to eat in the car instead of supper. We arrived Lini and Abus' house after dark. Then, AD and Akuan stayed home to revise my revision (AD) and watch TV (Akuan).

I drove on to Tungpu where a group representing five of Taiwan's 12-13 (depends on how and who is counting) aborigine tribes danced for us. It was almost a pep rally for building aborigine power or aborigine pride. During breaks, children were called upon to answer questions ("Who was the mother of Jesus?" "What was her ethnic group?" "You don't know? You'll have to ask your pastor, because I don't know either!") and sing 'traditional aborigine' songs like: Two tigers (nothing traditional about it. It's in Mandarin Chinese and is sung to Frere Jacques).

It was great fun. Toddlers were so involved with watching they had to be carried, crying, out of the way of dancers. The most entertaining was the last dance in which the dancers swooped down over the people in the first few rows (including kids sitting on the ground) and roared at them! With each swoop and roar, the audience leaned way back, almost falling into the laps behind them! It's possible I've got that on film. My biggest regret is that I hadn't remembered AD's video camera in time to record the first dance. This was the only one with live singing. The harmony was very beautiful, but there was something about it that woke up all the geese in a pen behind the basketball court and made them start honking!

After the dancing, which included Abus and I getting pulled from our seats to dance, I drove Abus home so we could get some sleep before the choir arrived at 3 am. We were in bed before 11. The choir was up at the church by 2 am warming up, donning choir robes, and prepping torches. Lini got up at 2 to prepare a big pot of noodles to feed the choir, as Lini and Abus' house was the first stop. The rest of us dozed until Lini hollered that the choir was almost here.

I got up to see torchlight reflected in the windows. The house was dark. Everything was quiet inside and out. Then the leader gave four pitches and the choir burst into Joy to the World in Bunun. After they finished the first verse, they knocked on the door and we opened up the door and turned on the lights.

They all bowed and said "Christmas Ping-an" (Christmas Peace).

Then Lini got out a table and pink plastic bowls and the noodles and a pot of ginger-black-sugar tea. Abus and Lini joined the choir, leaving AD, Akuan, and me to follow later.

When we got to Tungpu, everything was mostly quiet, except for a few Christmas trees tinkling through carols. There were lots of Christmas lights outside, but no lights inside buildings.

Then we saw the torches as the choir headed to the house the furthest out of town. This year, the choir split into two groups to ensure we would all get into and out of the church while it was still dark. As we went from house to house and door to door, we could hear the other half of the choir singing to wake up families in houses in the other part of the town. As we woke up each house, the people inside started getting ready for church, some joining the choir as it moved on to sing at the next door.

After singing at all the houses, the two halves of the choir joined up.

The choir led the village into the church.

Ringing in Christmas

Rev. Alang greets the villagers as the choir lights the steps. The village filed through the choir

into the dark and quiet church.

Once everyone got seated, I could see the church was packed almost solid. Then the choir came in, two by two, singing Silent Night.

This entire village can fit inside an area about 300 m by 150 m (about three soccer fields side by side) and houses around 450 people. The choir didn't get the entire village into the church, because many were out of town working or in school. The choir managed, however, to get most of those in the town into the church. It turned out that almost everyone was in a choir which stood up to sing during the service.

The children sang and danced. The teenagers sang and dance.

Four or five groups from the village sang and danced. Groups visiting from other towns sang and danced. In between, there were readings from Luke 2:1-14, Matthew 2:1-12, and John 1:1-9. Akuan got sleepy and tried to doze on my shoulder.

When the service ended, it was still dark outside. We joined the choir for a bit of breakfast and headed home for bed. When we got home, it was after 5, but still dark. We slept until almost 11.

Then it was time to get up and go back to the village for a catered lunch. Every family in Tungpu contributed money for the banquet. The price per table was about US$60. That was cheap because the village agreed to help set up, serve, and do all the clean up. Each table had 8 or so people. The food was more than enough. Everyone filled up plastic bags of leftovers to eat over the rest of the day.

Today was a clear example of how a choir is the mainstay of a church. The choir rounded up everyone for the middle-of-the-night service, prepared a bit of breakfast for guests, set up tables and chairs in the basketball court for a noon-day banquet, ushered people to seats, served the food, and cleaned everything up afterwards.

Email me:  

Back to FLY