Gin Go Bay, Gin Go Bay: This Was My Christmas Eve

As I was getting ready for bed, my elder sister Penny, who was in Year 1 at school, refused to lay in bed. Instead, she mysteriously took one of my stockings and one of hers and attached them to the green curtains in our room with two clothes pegs.

She explained that her teacher had told them about how Santa Claus would climb down the chimneys on Christmas Eve and leave presents in the children’s stockings in their rooms.

But what about us? We don’t have a chimney, nor do our neighbors. In our village, the only chimney belongs to the fish-drying factory. What should we do?

Thinking for a moment, Penny slightly opened the window. It had been shut due to the chilly north-east monsoon blowing through Penghu during winter. She then faced me and said, “Okay, I’ll keep the window open a little bit so that Santa Claus can come in.”

She gazed contentedly at the two stockings and put her hands together in prayer, “Let’s close our eyes and make a wish. Santa will put the gifts in them tomorrow.”

How wonderful! How amazing! I would ask Santa Claus for the wafer roll. Mum only buys them for me as a birthday treat. … Oh no, my birthday is coming up, I will soon get the wafer roll. Maybe I’d better ask for a doll, a lovely doll with long curls and a pettiskirt.

I earnestly and sincerely mimicked Penny’s prayer, asking God for a charming doll as a gift. Then we climbed into bed and wrapped ourselves in blankets, feeling both excited and nervous.

However, I couldn’t sleep and kept tossing and turning in bed.

“Penny, I can’t sleep. Can I stay up and wait for Santa Claus?”

“Heemie, you can’t do that. We need to be asleep for Santa to give presents. If we’re not asleep, he won’t come. Go to sleep, now!”

Not sure how much time had gone by, I was still not sleepy. My eyes were getting used to the dark, so I opened them to glimpse my room at night for the first time. I couldn’t wait to see how my dolls would look tomorrow. I was curious about the pettiskirt’s color. Was it white or pink?

As I turned to the left side of my bed, I realized I had forgotten to tell Santa about my doll’s size. I dislike the tiny Barbie dolls. I prefer dolls the size of a small baby, so I could hold them as throw pillows. But the stockings are too small. Will a big doll fit in them? Would Santa Claus think I was too greedy?

The greater my pondering, the more anxious I grew. I nudged Penny and asked her what I should do. Could I alter my wish now?

No one replied. Penny’s steady snoring was the only sound in the dark.

I got up, quietly past Penny who slept beside me, gently climbed out of bed and stood alone in front of the window. I closed my eyes and sincerely made a new wish on the stockings, which were shaken by the chilly wind coming from the window crack that Penny had just opened.

Sorry Santa, but I like the wafer roll better.

I climbed back into bed again. As I giggled in anticipation of tomorrow’s wafer roll, I heard the wind whistling through the window crack. I’ve decided I’m going to get up even earlier than Penny tomorrow so that I can be the first to see all the wonderful presents.

But I didn’t wake up early enough to see the amazing view—probably because of my insomnia the night before. When I awoke, the winter sun was already shining through the window and warming the room, spilling light onto the bed. I sat up immediately, rubbed my eyes and turned to Penny, “Did Santa Claus come and bring our gifts?”

Penny seemed to be awake very early. She stood in front of the curtain, holding two stockings that were still attached to it. Her jaw dropped slightly, showing the two missing incisors.

Looking at the stockings, they appeared disappointingly empty with nothing. No wafer rolls, no dolls.

Nothing inside.

It seemed odd. isn’t Santa Claus coming? As Penny was checking both of them from the inside out, her expression became as puzzled as mine. Then, silently, she removed the clothes pegs, took off the stockings and handed one to me.

Mum called out from the living room, “Kids, time for breakfast!” We quietly got dressed, quietly put on our stockings and stepped out of the room quietly as if nothing had happened. As usual, we had congee with bamboo shoots and gluten for breakfast.

I was four years old then. It was my first insomnia, as well as my first Christmas Eve. There was nothing inside the stockings, but I wasn’t disappointed.

Wow, it was incredible to see how foreigners celebrate New Year’s Day. At night, while everyone sleeps, the chubby Santa Claus flies in a sleigh pulled by reindeer and quietly stops outside children’s homes. He climbs down the chimney and quietly places the wished-for presents in the stockings, and then flies away in the sleigh quietly once more.

Compared to the energetic and lively celebrations of our Lunar New Year, where firecrackers bursting every hour from the beginning of the year, this kind and peaceful engagement with children on Christmas Eve creates a tranquil and cozy festival.

I’ve been drawn to it and can’t get enough ever since my first Christmas.


When I was five years old, a nun visited my home and presented my Mum with a white bib and a small orange school bag for my kindergarten. The following day, I wore the bib and carried the bag while sitting on the back of my Mum’s motorbike as she took me to the free Catholic nursery near the harbor. Thus began my journey to the nursery.

After a few months, the weather gradually turned from hot autumn to winter, with the north-east monsoon blowing once again. Christmas was coming once more.

One day, our teacher told us about the upcoming Christmas Eve party next month. At the event, we would perform a show on stage focusing on the story of Jesus’s birth. She would assign each of us with a specific role and costume beforehand. We were going to spend the rest of the school day rehearsing the show intensively.

What role would I be assigned? I was curious.

As I arrived home, Penny showed me a photo album with pictures of her Christmas party three years ago when she was also a student at the Catholic nursery. One picture showed Penny and her classmates forming a circle and taking turns in a raffle. Another image was a close up of Penny, dressed in a short white gown, playing the role of Angel during the performance.

Finally, she displayed a photo of all the kids in their costumes. She pointed to the Angel role in the center of the crowd—that is, herself—and then to Maria, played by another girl, also standing in the center, dressed in a white gown. She said with confidence:

“I’ve heard that only pretty girls are assigned to play the Angel or Maria.”

I inquired, “If a girl isn’t pretty, what role can she play?”

Penny hesitated slightly, moving her finger from the center of the group to the bottom right of the picture, where some children were dressed in gray furry costumes and bronze masks. She replied uncertainly, “She……might be assigned to play the sheep, right?”

But what if I was assigned to be the sheep? Oh no……

As I was about to burst into tears, Penny hastened to reassure me, saying that don’t worry, don’t worry, it’s usually the boys who play the sheep.

On the audition day, a pretty girl with two braids was assigned to be Angel and another lovely girl with a long ponytail to be Maira. Despite my 5cm pixie cut and tanned skin making me look like a boy rather than a girl, I was not cast as the sheep. Penny was right.

Instead, I played the role of a shepherd with the sheep.

During the rehearsals, my teacher always reminded me, “You are the shepherd. You must bring the sheep, kneel before Maria and the newborn Jesus for a while, then depart. Is that clear?”

Even though I had no lines to speak as a shepherd, I was entranced by Maria’s flowing white gown as I knelt before her during the public performance, “The gown is beautiful! Is it only for pretty girls? How wonderful would it be if I wore this gown?”

Lost in a daze, I remained frozen in place, forgetting to get up for a long, long time. Maria froze. Angel froze. Even the sheep behind me froze and knelt with me awkwardly for what felt like an eternity.

The teacher rushed onto the stage and helped me to get up. As I left the stage with my sheep, there was a muffled chuckle from the parents of my classmates in the audience.

That year, we didn’t have a class group photo, just individual photos of each character’s story. In my picture, I wore a blue wooly hat and held a blue and yellow stick while dressed in a blue robe. I stood behind my four classmates, dressed in gray furry costumes. They squatted on the ground with their bronze masks on, which made it hard to see their faces. Were they happy then? I’m not sure.

What I am sure of, though, is that I pulled a long face standing glumly behind them in the picture.

As our teacher counted down “three, two, one, say cheese” for this picture, I couldn’t help but wonder: “I wasn’t picked as Angel or Maria, but I wasn’t a sheep either. Therefore, am I pretty or not?”

Nonetheless, Christmas Eve that year was still a fantastic night for me. We all gathered around, clapped our hands to the beat, and sang “Gin Go Bay, Gin Go Bay, Gin Go Bay” and other songs we didn’t recognize in the baby voice. Then, we enjoyed a bunch of biscuits and sodas.

I remember there was a big Christmas tree in the center of the classroom. The tree was decorated with red, gold, and silver lights, while wrapped gifts were placed beneath it, resembling the depicted Christmas story Penny had previously shared with me. However, as I glanced up toward the top of the tree, I noticed a statue of crucified Jesus on the cross at the back of the classroom, which made me feel a little bit scared. Furthermore, there was neither a chimney nor a chubby Santa Claus in the classroom.

But ​​it doesn’t matter. Today, I didn’t have to hang a stocking or make a wish. Each one of us was guaranteed to win the raffle and get a gift.

Luckily, I got the biggest gift on that day. Most of the children opened their presents immediately and found that many of them were biscuits or sweets. I didn’t want to open mine right there. Not only was this the first Christmas gift I’ve ever received, but it was also the first time I’ve ever received a gift that was so nicely wrapped. I wanted to share the happiness with my whole family.

I was thrilled to bring the gift home. Upon unwrapping it, I found a white tracksuit, with long sleeves and trousers, beautifully embroidered with red piping. The outfit resembled the one Bruce Lee wore—but in white and red instead of yellow and black. Having never owned new clothes before, the smell of the fresh fabric was delightful to me. Well, the tracksuit was too large for me, so I gave it to my elder brother.


After that, I didn’t go to the Catholic nursery, so I hardly celebrated Christmas Eve. When I reached Year 6, on a winter day, I walked home from school while the north-east monsoon blew. Gazed at the bare branches of the trees along the road in Penghu, an idea suddenly came to me.

Why not hang red, gold, and silver lights on the branches and place some wrapped presents underneath them? In this way, the original cold and chilly winter may become a colorful, tranquil and cozy season, just like the peaceful celebration of Christmas Eve.

The following day, I told my schoolmates about the plan to adorn a Christmas tree; however, none of them grew large trees in their houses, let alone ones that resembled Christmas trees.

That’s OK, I then changed my mind and decided to have a Christmas Eve party instead!

Ten of my female classmates were invited to the party. It was scheduled for 6:30 pm on a holiday night. We held the event in my friend’s room and each of us contributed TWD 50 for the cost that evening.

Here comes the party day. That afternoon, my friend and I went to the nearby shop with the “huge amount of money”. We used the calculator to work it out as we threw a few packets of biscuits and cans of juice into the basket. Paying the bill, we carried the heavy bags to the party venue where many friends had already arrived.

We were all lying on the floor, sketching Christmas trees, Santa Claus, sleighs, reindeer, and snowflakes on the paper—the images of Christmas in our minds. Then, we cut it out along the outline of the drawing, put glue on the back and carefully stuck it on the original white wall of my friend’s room. I could hear my friend mumbling hesitantly as she pressed her hand to the freshly glued drawing, “I wonder if Mum will be angry when she sees it tomorrow ……”.

After decorating, we all sat on the floor and looked around the room. The original clean white walls had been adorned with pictures of sleighs, reindeer, snowflakes, and the colors red, green and gold filled the room. The Christmas spirit was immediately in the air. Nodding our heads in satisfaction, we placed two large, low tables next to each other and laid out the food we had just bought.

Checking the time, it was almost 6:00 pm! We jumped on our bikes and rushed home for a quick shower. We had to be back here by 6.30 pm. Today we all got permission from our parents to stay at the party until 8 or 9 pm. It was the first time we had been allowed to stay out that late. I wondered as I cycled home: was this a privilege of the festival or a privilege of growing up?

At 6.30 pm, everyone showed up on time. There were no fancy dress codes, no gift exchanges activities, no music playing machines; however, there were hand-drawn pictures of ourselves on the walls, biscuits and drinks that we’ve all paid for, and an overwhelming sense of anticipation that almost boiled over.

It was nearly the dead of winter. The north-east monsoon outside was continuously blowing against the glass door of my friend’s house, making the windows and doors rumble during the party.

It was nearly the end of our childhood. In less than six months, we were going to graduate from primary school. The grown-ups said that once we left primary school, we left our childhood behind. How did time fly by so fast?

We didn’t want to think about what’s to come tonight, we simply wanted to enjoy Christmas Eve. Ten of us were seated on the floor, circled around the low table, in the small but cozy room. We chatted about the romantic gossip of our classmates as we grabbed every open packet of biscuits.

Then, we imitated the way grown-ups toast each other in TV commercials, raised our paper cups full of juice and cheered—Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!