I was very surprised when I saw Christmas in Japan for the first time. Kentucky Fried Chicken? Strawberry cake? A holiday for couples? This is not Christmas!
I am often asked ‘If you don’t eat fried chicken on Christmas, what do you eat?’ There are no simple answers for this question. Unlike Thanksgiving, a month before, Christmas’s menu is not set in stone. I assume most families have their own unique traditions. For example, my family has a different dinner every year. One year, we even had a ‘cooking competition’ where each family member made a dish. A winning dish was chosen at the end of the night. The most important thing about Christmas is not food, but the time spent together with our family, having conversations, and perhaps even partaking in some eggnog.
Family is great, but my favorite part of Christmas is the presents! I think I am still very young at heart. But if you think about it, presents are really awesome. When you are young receiving a present is so fun and exciting. When you get older giving presents becomes the fun part. But either way, some of my best Christmas memories are waiting in anticipation to open all those presents. On Christmas morning, I was always the first person in my family to wake up. After staring at the presents, which seemed to be begging me to be opened, I woke up my siblings and parents because I couldn’t wait any longer. When everyone was finally awake, the ‘present opening frenzy’ could finally commence.
Unfortunately, there is a dark side of gift giving as well. After opening your final present and realizing there are no more, there is a sudden feeling of disappointment or depression. After all that waiting, when Christmas is finally over it is a little sad. I often thought ‘What is it over…? Now what do I do…?’
Furthermore, Christmas has been hijacked by companies and stores in order to sell stuff. Nowadays stores start their sales as soon as Thanksgiving is over. Thanksgiving is always on a Thursday and the following Friday is called ‘Black Friday’. Many stores have VERY amazing sales. But these sales are usually limited quantities so you have to get up early (or stay up very late!) in order to rush into the store as soon as it opens or you will miss your chance. Or perhaps you have seen ‘Cyber Monday’. Many people don’t want to go outside into the real world. Instead, they buy their gifts online. Many stores offer discounts to items bought on ‘Cyber Monday’, the Monday following Thanksgiving. ‘Cyber Monday’ focuses especially on deals of ‘cyber’ or electronic goods. In my opinion, these sale days are just commercialism going too far and denigrating the family nature of Christmas.
Japan is missing this ‘real’ Christmas. But it is OK. During my time in Japan I have grown to love New Years as well. Japanese New Year’s, like American Christmas, is mostly about meeting and spending time with your family. Japanese New Year’s even has a little bit of gift giving in the Otoshidama. But, I do admit I miss the pile of presents under the Christmas tree and the anticipation of finally getting to open them…