Christmas is the spirit of giving without a thought of getting. It is happiness because we see joy in people. It is forgetting self and finding time for others. It is discarding the meaningless and stressing the true values.
Thomas S. Monson
Family Christmas photo at Odaiba Holiday Inn. (The wall behind us is made of actual gingerbread).
(OK, so the title doesn’t actually do this blog justice (there are only two paragraphs on KFC and cake), but I just couldn’t resist).
Christmas is a widely known and enjoyed holiday. It is a time to spend with family, to decorate a tree, to open gifts, and to enjoy some roasted ham or turkey. However, in Japan, Christmas is not a national holiday, so it’s just another day to most, and people treat it as such. It’s only in the last few decades that Japan actually started celebrating this lovely holiday.
For some who celebrate this holiday, Christmas is not associated with religion but instead happiness because there are not that many Christians; about one percent of Japan is Christian. Nonetheless, for those who do celebrate it for whatever reason, sending Christmas cards and some presents to loved ones is very common. They only buy few gifts, however, unlike in America where some people will spend weeks or even months doing their Christmas shopping.
My host mom’s contribution to Christmas decorating.
In Japan, Christmas is more for couples while New Years is for family. Unlike in America, Christmas Eve is celebrated more than Christmas Day. It’s thought to be a romantic day, so couples celebrate it like couples on Valentine’s Day in America: dinner at a restaurant, gifts, amazing light shows, etc.
When it comes to the Christmas meal, there is one place that people will rush to: KFC. One Christmas tradition that stands out is families having fried chicken on Christmas Day. It’s so popular, reservations and orders for KFC meals are placed months in advance. So, why is Japan obsessed with KFC on Christmas? Well in short, it’s because of a successful “Kurisumasu ni wa kentakkii!” (Kentucky for Christmas!) marketing campaign in 1974. Since turkey is not available in Japan, chicken was advertised instead. Now, KFC is the go-to restaurant for Christmas. So because of great advertisement, KFC stores get long line-ups around Christmas. KFC is now a popular custom. (Japan is the only country that offers KFC Christmas meal sets). My family is a healthy family, so they don’t eat KFC (or any fast food) or contribute to this tradition.
Besides KFC, Christmas meals aren’t very popular. So instead of meals, families normally get a simple sponge cake decorated with strawberries and whipped cream. Very delicious!
As for my Christmas, I’ve been very busy. I decided to join in with my homeroom class and do a Secret Santa. I was a little surprised to find that it was a little different from America in that it lasts for a week instead of one day. So, I accidently bought a 1,000 yen (about $10) gift to my assigned classmate and little tiny snacks the following days. But on Friday, our Secret Santa’s were revealed to us.
For the holidays, Christmas parties are normally held for kids with games, dancing, etc. I went to a Christian Christmas party at my host school because one of my English teachers had invited me. I won’t lie when I say I felt very awkward with all the Christians around who were afraid to talk to me and spoke in soft voices. Still, it was fun eating snacks playing Bingo and winning prizes and doing gift exchanges.
For today on this lovely Christmas morning, I went to a local church near my school in Roppongi to volunteer by making and packing onigiri, or rice balls. Everyone in the room (but one) was foreign, so it was nice to see where people were from and why they were in Japan.
Volunteer group picture at Franciscan Chapel Center
When I got back home, I was surprised to see a gift for me. Actually, many gifts! My host dad got me a signature stamp with my name on it in katakana. As for my host mom, she gave me a Merry Christmas bag (the one that held all my gifts), chopsticks, a mini purse/pouch (made from silk used to make kimonos), a Season’s Greeting card, a 2016 mini Hello Kiddy calendar, ink pens (for my manga drawings), some type of spinning wind toy, and cookies.
Gifts from my host family
Lastly, I got a Christmas card that was written on by everyone in the family. However, I still have to decipher three out of the four messages. (The one I can read says, “Good luck with Japanese!” from my host brother). I was so – and still am – so grateful to get anything from my host family! I felt a little bad, though, because after my Christmas shopping for everyone in America, I couldn’t get them anything. I didn’t even know what to get them here in Japan. So, I drew them a simple picture of the family in chibi form. (Think of a chibi form as a “mini me”). My host mom actually really liked it! She kept showing it off to the others in the family, so I was happy about that.
Gift to my host family
To end the night, I went with my host mom to Tokyo (not Tokyo the prefecture) to drop of Harumichi for his ski trip. After, she took me around the city to look at the lights on the Tokyo Station. Apparently it’s a major thing to see because it only happens before, on, and after Christmas Day every year. (There was a huge mob there just to take photos). Still, everything was beautiful, especially with a full moon out. To end the night, we had okonomiyaki for dinner, and we listened to a singer sing a Christmas song in front of a snowy white Christmas tree.
What a wonderful day it was! I wish all of you a Merry Merry Christmas!