Christmas In Another Country

I’m studying abroad right now, and that means Christmas is a bit different for me this time around. As an American Christmas is a big deal, despite how consumerist it is now and the fact that I don’t practice religion. We can all still appreciate the culture that’s sprung up around the holiday anyways, right? Well in Japan (Kyoto, specifically) there’s a very different atmosphere around Christmas that made today a unique experience. Here’s the basic layout*:

America

Japan

Focus

Friends/family Lovers

Popular Start

Ages ago Past few decades

Religious Association

Christianity turned consumerist Fully consumerist

Food

Big meat dish (i.e. ham/chicken), tons of sides KFC (usually reserved months in advance)

Drinks

Eggnog, apple cider, punch Beer if anything?

Desserts

Gingerbread (houses), peppermint things, cookies out the hoo-haw Christmas cake, which seems to be a common strawberry cake

Special Extras

Mass, carolers, presents under the tree, wreath, lights everywhere Maybe a tree or wreath

Now the thing to note is that since New Years is less than a week a way and is in fact way bigger as a cultural event here, plus Christmas not being particularly relevant to Japan on the whole, it’s no wonder Christmas isn’t such a big thing here. My day consisted of present exchanging with my host family in the morning, plus unwrapping some presents sent over from family in the States, but that’s about as Christmas-y as the day felt.

The stores are still widely open, there was a flea market I went to today that meant most of my time was spent packed in with strangers than with any friends or family, and despite the downtown Kawaramachi area being all lit up with lights, reindeer, trees and more the rest of the places carry about as usual. Now I’ve never really gone out on Christmas, so I’m sure that there are plenty of pockets back home where things are bustling as usual, but not for my holiday traditions.

Dinner, as opposed to a huge spread of turkey, mashed potatoes, casseroles, veggies and plenty of other goodies, was fried chicken. Which was good, trust me, but it lacked all the elaborate and painstaking prep I’m accustomed to at home. I didn’t even make cookies or anything (mainly because we already have a lot of goodies here already, but still), and I found my and my mothers m&m/hershey kiss pretzel treats on my mind, imagining all the out-of-season holiday m&m’s she’d have stockpiled (we’re talking Easter, Thanksgiving and more) alongside 3 huge bags of pretzels. Yeah, I miss the baking, the gingerbread houses, the ridiculous amount of cookies we end up with after our own efforts are combined with baked gifts from guests. Here we had strawberry cake and called it Christmas cake. Nice try, and yummy, but not quite there Japan.

I don’t have any particular feelings on it; I’m not over here dying of loneliness or sadness at missing out on this big holiday. Although friends pictures of their present stacks under 6 ft tall trees decked out with lights and ornaments are a fond and missed sight. It was just very odd to have something that’s always such a big time marker and gathering day for friends and family to fly by without much notice. As I mentioned above, I’m sure New Year’s will carry that weight with it, but for now I’ll sit here reflecting on a ~50 F Christmas (it’s usually below freezing at home in New England) filled with shopping, takoyaki and nothing special.

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*Note, this is all based on my experiences and accounts I’ve gathered from Japanese friends. Obviously everywhere is different, yada yada, but here’s my account.

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