A Cross-Cultural Look at Christmas in Japan and Canada

Katrina Laura Reika Kitahara-NgKatrina Laura Reika Kitahara-Ng

December is a month full of excitement as Christmas inches near, bringing a joyous atmosphere to those of us who celebrate the holidays! Christmas spirit is shown in abundance in both Canada and Japan –, though, the way each nation celebrates the occasion differs a little bit. After experiencing Christmas in both countries, there are some things I have come to notice when it comes to the way we spend the holidays in Japan in comparison to in Canada.

To begin, I would like to take a moment to note that in both nations, Christmas is a very commercial holiday. The notion to exchange gifts, decorate for Christmas and the festive spirit in malls and supermarket are similar. After Halloween, it seems Japanese supermarkets are flooded with Christmas themed snacks, where every store on the island nation has some form of tribute to the merry holiday. In Toronto as well, one can see that after Black Friday, stores begin flaunting their Christmas spirit in the form of holiday themed decorations and holiday sales.

Christmas in Japan seems to be a holiday for couples, as many Japanese magazines give pointers on perfect Christmas date ideas and gifts for significant others. While Canadians also show their lovers a fair amount of holiday affection, it is important to note that for most Canadians, Christmas is a very family oriented occasion. In Canada, people generally find themselves going home for Christmas, indulging in family dinners and get-togethers – similar in nature to the way Japanese people often go home for New Years. In essence, I noticed that the Christmas celebrated in Canada is similar to the way New Years is treated in Japan, surrounding family and enjoying being at home. Christmas in Japan, with the emphasis on being with friends and significant others, is in fact, similar to the way New Years is spent in Canada. It is almost a reverse!

When it comes to holiday foods, there is no doubt that both countries can deliver deliciously. While all families may have their own ways of eating during the holidays, it is safe to say that the quintessential Japanese Christmas involves some type of Christmas cake – usually a strawberry shortcake – offered by one of the many companies that sell cakes specifically for Christmas. Of course, what better to balance that sweet cake than some savoury fried chicken? Somehow it has become tradition for Japanese families to eat fried chicken for Christmas; it is said that this originates from the Japanese wanting the Christmas chicken/turkey that westerners had, and that chicken of the deep-fried variety was the most enticing option at the time.

Meanwhile in Canada the typical Christmas meals can vary, since Toronto is an extremely multicultural society, Christmas celebrations can differ depending on what cultural background one may have. That being said, it is typically imagined that Christmas dinners involve either a whole roasted chicken or turkey, mashed potatoes, pie and Christmas cake. Hot apple pie with cream, Christmas Stollen, Panettone, eggnog, and apple cider are all holiday foods reminiscent of a childhood Christmas. It is also a common activity for families to bake cookies together and decorate them – imagine gingerbread houses and cookies decorated with frosting to make festive designs! Such snacks and activities are an integral part of a Canadian Christmas. The acts of sharing and giving are also noteworthy this time of year; Potlucks are common to see for Christmas gatherings, where all those attending bring a dish so that ideally, the party ends up with a variety of foods that guests can enjoy.

So, one may ask, “which nation celebrates it the best?”, to which I would not be able to answer clearly. Personally, I prefer the family oriented customs of a Canadian Christmas because I am a very family oriented person. For the same reason, I prefer the Japanese way of celebrating New Years over the typical Canadian way. Both cultures have perks in the way they celebrate the holidays, and at the end of the day as long as you are able to enjoy yourself over this jolly time I believe it is a worthwhile holiday experience. Stay warm everybody and I wish you and your loved ones happy holidays!

All photos are taken at the Toronto Christmas Market at the Distillery Historic District being held from November 16th – December 23rd. Admission is free on weekdays, and $6CAD per guest on weekends. There are performances, food vendors and festive activities galore! This market provides ample opportunities for the sweetest of Christmas photos as well!

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