American Nervous for First Christmas in Japan

Ana Vigueras

This is my first Christmas away from home. I was determined to be able to spend at least one holiday season in Japan during my time as an undergraduate student. In addition, I have been dating the same person for about two years and the past two Christmas seasons we have not been able to spend them together. This has been troublesome for my partner for several reasons. My partner is Japanese and feels like he is missing out on the “most romantic night of the year” with me gone. The idea of Christmas is different in Japan than the United States. While Christmas started as a religious holiday in the states and slowly developed into more commercialism, Christmas in Japan is purely commercial because only 2% of the country is actually Christian. Since Christmas is a Christian holiday, only a minority celebrate for religious reasons but the other celebrate for the commercial aspects such as the lights, the food, the holiday parties, and the romantic Christmas night with Kentucky fried chicken and specialty Christmas cake. This is a stark contrast to my childhood, which made family the focal point of Christmas. As part of my cultural exposure I thought it necessary to stay in Japan for the 2017 Christmas season.

Christmas in America is a massive event. I’ll try my best to “paint a picture” of it. The events are based around family, the spirit of “giving”, the birth of God, peace and goodwill towards men, fatih, hope, the list is endless. Christmas in America is marked by snowmen, romantic snowy walks, ice skating, warm drinks by a fire, loved ones, Christmas dinner, Christmas music, caroling. Snow is important to the image of Christmas and those who live in warm states always have to work slightly harder to get into the “Christmas Spirit”. The invitations to the various Christmas parties, yankee swaps, wrapping circles all crowd your inboxes until you have multiple Christmas events in one day. In my middle school, there was a trend to start wearing Santa hats about two weeks before our Christmas break started. I bought a very fuzzy one and was sporting it in my mom’s annual holiday Christmas card that she sends to all our friends and family. There are Christmas movie marathons streaming non stop on television and you can not go into any store without their playlist of Christmas tunes blasting in your ears as you start shopping for the mammoth amount of presents you are socially required to buy for extended nephews. Television plays non stop Christmas movie marathons and families even develop Christmas movie traditions. Some people find these festivities to be overwhelming, but these grinches are kept at bay as the rest of America continues surging on.

My own “Christmas in America” has always been my favorite time of year. Students in college get a month or so of winter break while students in elementary or junior high school get about two weeks off from school. I am from a very cold area of the United States, so there would always be snow and I have amazingly fond memories of playing in the snow, coming inside to hot chocolate with mini marshmallows and cookies that my neighbors mom made us. Sounds cliché, but this really happened. My mom would also take us ice skating, and on special occasions we would make the trek to Boston for ice skating in the beautiful Boston Commons. On Christmas Eve we always had an array of parties to attend. These parties are family parties, almost exclusively, but I remember one year my family accommodated and we went from my friend’s Christmas party in a huge beautiful chandelier lit house to the more private family party at my cousin’s house. At my cousin’s house, we ate Christmas Dinner and then swapped presents while two of the adults pretended to be Santa and Santa’s Helper. At midnight we would go to the local church and participate in a midnight mass to welcome Jesus into the world. There would be a live choir singing christmas hymnals as well as the regal sound of a trumpet playing with celebratory bursts of sound. Finally, we would stay up until 3 am usually singing, drinking, and dancing (singing and dancing is more characteristic of Mexican Christmas celebration so there was a little bit of cultural blending). To the point of exhaustion we would then drive home, in the cold and snow. In the morning, we wake up early despite having gone to bed late and open a pile of presents, larger some years than others. This continued on even throughout my time in highschool and long after I knew that Santa did not exist (Spoiler—sorry). In high school the Christmas concerts were very important to me and my school for it was a way to give back to the community. I was a very active member of my concert choir and marching band, so there were weeks when I was staying at school until 9pm to rehearse for the Christmas concerts and the annual Christmas Parade in my town’s square. I would have one concert every night of the week up until the start of winter break. Christmas music is my favorite part of Christmas in the United States but that’s a whole essay in itself. Finally, last year for Christmas was especially “generous” because I had a shift at my restaurant where I was working and the first customer I served handed me a forty dollar bill right from the start, simply for me to keep because it was Christmas! That’s just how it is in America—during Christmas the majority of middle class people are happy, generous, home, snuggled up with their spiked eggnog while enjoying the festivities. It really is like that.I visited Hikarie Shibuya, a multipurpose high-rise tower, at the end of November to view the Christmas display of Minnie and Mickey Mouse embracing each other. I found it really unique and although it does make me nervous not knowing how I will feel during my Japanese Christmas, I am also appreciative of Tokyo’s adaptive way of celebrating. The way Tokyo plays with lights in the different districts through illuminations makes me feel comforted. It’s so brightly lit that even though I am without my family this year, it helps soothe my inevitable loneliness. I am spending Christmas this year with my boyfriend and although we have no plans yet, I am hoping to incorporate the “cozy—just happy to be together” feeling from my Christmases in the states with the Japanese version of the perfect romantic night. The whole KFC, Christmas cake, illumination, commercial Japanese Christmas. Wish me luck.

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