24
Dec

Christmas in Japan

-by Tyler McPeek

Do the Japanese celebrate Christmas?  The simplest and most accurate answer to this question is “yes.”  The question is really, “How do the Japanese celebrate Christmas?”  Well, essentially the Japanese have reversed the holidays of Christmas and New Years, in terms of cultural significance.  In the West, New Years is a party holiday, for friends and lovers, and Christmas is a “quiet” (in theory at least) family holiday at home.  In Japan, by contrast, New Years is a holiday for family.  It includes a special menu of home cooked food, a trip to the local Shinto Shrine to pray for a good new year, and some of the best television programming of the year, enjoyed at home with one’s family.


Christmas, on the other hand, is a dating holiday.  If you have a boyfriend or girlfriend, Christmas is probably the most important date holiday of the year.  It is, therefore, possibly the loneliest holiday for the “lover-less.”  Those without a significant other may be confined to sitting at home and watching some romantic television drama, featuring a couple going on a Christmas date–to add insult to injury.  This all assumes, of course, that we are not talking about Christian Japanese, which are very few in number.  They undoubtedly observe some semblance of a religious Christmas, but likely still go on a date to observe the holiday on a native cultural level.  Neighboring South Korea, on the other hand, has oodles of Christians and celebrates Christmas in a more traditional, western manner.


In Japan, one can expect to see Christmas decorations in the department stores, which may have some sort of Christmas sales (something they probably and unfortunately picked up from us).  Also, there is a curious tradition of making a thing called a "Christmas Cake."  As near as this writer can tell, this is a tradition of Japanese origin.  A Christmas cake is usually a standard yellow cake with white icing.  If you want to have some fun with a Japanese, ask them the trivia question, “Where did the tradition of Christmas Cake originate?”  They won’t have an answer, but they may throw out a guess like the standard “アメリカ” (“America”).  Watch their surprise when you tell them that it was their own country that came up with the item.  Better yet, if you are quizzing students (if you are an English teacher in Japan), give them a Christmas quiz and include a multiple choice version of the question with A) The USA, B) Germany, C) China, and D) Japan.  They will undoubtedly think that C and D are the red herrings, and choose between A and B.

Merry Christmas
and
Happy New Year
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