So the holiday season is upon us. Christmas has come and gone (unless you celebrate on January 1st) and New Years is just around the corner. I thought I would take the chance to talk about Christmas in Japan.
Having lived in western countries my whole life up until this point, the Japanese concept of Christmas is very strange to me. Adjusting to summer Christmas, with barbecues and outdoor cricket, when I moved to Australia was unusual enough for me, but Japan is a whole other ball game. Like Halloween and Valentines Day it’s one of the foreign holidays Japan has adopted and made its own. For me when I think of Christmas I think of waking up early, getting together with family, either immediate or extended, exchanging presents, eating lots of food and playing games. I think of gingerbread, tinsel, fairy lights, Christmas crackers (Bon-bons) bad jokes and even worse Christmas songs to which I know too many of the lyrics. As you can probably imagine Japan is lacking in a lot of these things that make Christmas, for me at least, feel less Christmassy.
For starters, in Japan Christmas isn’t even a holiday. This isn’t really surprising as Japan isn’t a Christian country and so people don’t really celebrate it here. For those who do it’s a little different. Family Christmas is only celebrated by families with children, people don’t really go home to their parents or their grandparents like I imagine most people do back home. For everyone else it’s a couples’ holiday, people go on dates or spend the day at home with their partner eating fried chicken. And I must admit, I still can’t wrap my head around how fried chicken became a Christmas tradition. I believe it started with an ad campaign KFC had saying that this was the American thing to do on Christmas (which of course, it isn’t). Christmas being a predominantly western holiday Japan must have just taken to this idea. I suppose it must have been subverted from the popular tradition of eating turkey on Christmas Day, but as a foreigner the whole thing is still a strange concept. I feel bad for those working at KFC on Christmas here. They also have Christmas cakes here (not fruit cakes, just normal decorated cakes) but overall traditions regarding food here are nothing like the extravagant feasts people like to prepare in Europe and America (or the barbecues we like to have in Australia).
Christmas in Japan has one thing I haven’t really seen before moving here, illuminations. Overseas you can see many people decorate their houses with Christmas lights throughout December. I remember I always loved going through the local neighbourhoods at night, where almost every house was lit up. Japan does this differently through events called illuminations. Instead of neighbourhoods where people decorate their houses, there are areas, like shopping centres and theme parks, where the entire place is lit up with beautiful light displays. I visited one in early December with my host family and it felt so magical, just like I was a child all over again. For me this is the closest thing to capturing the spirit of Christmas that I almost missed this year.
My experience of Christmas was neither a traditional western or Japanese Christmas. Whilst many of my foreign friends returned to their home country for Christmas, I stayed. A few of my other friends did too so we decided to get together at one of our places so that we could have a Christmas this year and not spend the day alone. We brought food and played games and had fun. I had a lovely day spent with lovely people but something about it all just wasn’t the same. There were things that reminded me of Christmas at home but they made me a little homesick. In the end I’m still glad I got to spend the day with people I care about, even if it didn’t feel entirely like Christmas.
I hope everyone is having a wonderful holiday and that the New Year brings as many wonderful opportunities as this year has brought me.