Thursday, December 23, 2010

Tangerines & Cake

As far as Christmas spirit goes, this little town in Florida has nothing whatsoever over Japan, where the late December air is everywhere palpable in music, decoration and the holiday demeanor of people. Hard to tell it’s even Christmas in this sand blown beachtown with few decorations.

Though people do go to work as usual on Christmas Day, like most December days people are caught up in a holiday swing. It is a time of year in Japan when tangerines and strawberries are everywhere, boxes, bowls and dishes of the bright orange and red fruit coloring stores and living rooms, a time when people are thinking about Christmas cakes and what kind to get this year. Boys making plans to take their girlfriend for a Christmas Eve dinner, while the restaurants are gearing up for their prix fixe specials. Lampposts and storefronts are wearing garlands that twinkle with lights, and in the busier parts of town carols from overhead compete, “Jingle Bells” from the camera shop, “Frosty the Snowman” from a tinsel-wrapped bakery crowded with strawberry topped cakes. Even the big Colonel Sanders figure out front at Kentucky Fried Chicken wears a Santa suit.

One thing absent from a Japanese Christmas is our own tradition of gift giving. Oh, sure there are those parents who give their child a Christmas present, but without the stockings and bedtime stories of Santa, and nothing like the American Christmas tree surrounded by colorfully wrapped presents. Apart from the many decorated trees in stores, parks and on select corners, Christmas trees are not a custom in the average home.

There is no Christian tradition underlying the thoughts and celebrations of the average Japanese, as less than two percent of the population is Christian. I suppose there are those strict Western-taught Christians who on occasion discount the Japanese celebration as hollow, but it is also true that Christmas in America is as much an economy driven bonanza as it is a holiday commemorating the birth of Christ. The idea of ‘Jesus is the reason for the season’ has a competing flip side where Wall Street and Madison Avenue declare that spending is the reason for the season. But in that aspect Japan is no different. Christmas was created by retailers who saw a phenomenon they could re-create in Japan with a few Christmas carols and some yards of tinsel and was from the beginning a marketing concept. Still it would be unfair to criticize those beginnings, because the years have brought at least some understanding of the Christian concept, the joy, happiness and celebration.

This will be my first Christmas in the US since Ronald Reagan was President and I haven’t yet gotten a hold on the differences. I keep thinking I’ll be going to Christmas dinner in Yokohama at Kumiko’s house, but then remember it will be my sister’s house in Maitland instead. Will she have a Christmas cake, I wonder.

1 comment:

  1. Always interesting to get another take on the holiday that has gotten bigger 'n Dallas in this country. O that we would be content with a cake and some good wishes.


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Oak Hill, Florida, United States
A longtime expat relearning the footwork of life in America