The road to recovery has been slow for the Aboriginal residents of Wulai (烏來) in New Taipei City, many of whom have been affected by the typhoons earlier this year. But this Sunday, Santa will be spreading some holiday cheer to the town’s youngest residents, handing out toys and donated school supplies, as well as leading a group of pint-sized carolers.
The idea behind “Christmas in Wulai” started in 2011 with long-time Taipei expat Gary Smoke. As a Vietnam War veteran, Smoke says he’s seen what people are capable of doing to each other and wanted to contribute something meaningful to the community he was living in for a change. At the time, Smoke was also collecting instructional books recycled by English teachers in Taiwan who left their jobs when he met Tony Coolidge (he’s also a contributor for the Taipei Times). Coolidge was born in Wulai to an Atayal Aboriginal mother and American serviceman father and had just returned to Taiwan to rediscover his roots. Like Smoke, Coolidge also felt compelled to give back to the community.
“I said, ‘hey, why don’t we put on a Christmas show up in Wulai?’” Smoke says. “The rest is history.”
Smoke now serves as the international relations director at Coolidge’s Taiwan-based non-profit organization, Atayal, which aims to connect indigenous people around the world. In the past, they’ve arranged for musicians, storytellers and children’s choirs from nearby churches to perform outside of Wulai Atayal Museum, and this year’s event will be just as boisterous.
“I’ll walk down the streets in my Santa suit handing out candy and people will stop and hand me their babies, asking me to pose so that they can get a picture of Santa with their baby,” Smoke tells me.
What: Christmas in Wulai
When:Sunday from 1pm to 5pm
Where: Wulai Atayal Museum (烏來泰雅民族博物館), 12, Wulai St, New Taipei City (新北市烏來街12號)
On the net: www.facebook.com/events
For further information, please contact Gary Smoke: email@example.com or 0920-558-017
Santa and his helpers will hand out Christmas bells and clappers to children, encouraging them to dance. Although some might initially be too shy to join in, most eventually come around.
“Once people know Santa is here, the crowd is just in frenzy mode,” Smoke adds.
Besides organizing the yearly Christmas event, Smoke is trying to implement new programs in Wulai that will have more long-lasting change. One idea is to do a walking tour of Wulai led by a local Atayal guide and accompanied by an English translator. Another is to develop the library in the museum by donating his English textbooks and converting the place into a learning center. Finally, Smoke also wishes to start a soccer tournament in Wulai that will bring together Atayal children and students from international schools.
Smoke says that all the projects are intertwined and have to do with children of different backgrounds coming together and learning from one another. In particular, the idea to host soccer tournaments came from the English-language basketball camps Coolidge had been organizing for children in Tainan.
“Our expectations are high and it’s all contingent on collaborating with Wulai’s Atayal community,” Smoke says.