Although the hot humid cruising on the beach type of weather in Hawaii, there is a lot of Christmas lights and decorations everywhere in town, neighborhood and shopping malls… the holidays are here! Just seeing the neighborhoods with heavily decorated houses and city-wide lighted trees make me feel so happy, joyful and festive.
When I moved to the US, I experienced a big culture shock during Christmas time. Both in Japan and the US, Christmas is a time to spread happiness and joy, and we both celebrate through gift-giving, decorations, and food. Even though Christmas in Japan is heavily influenced by the US, there are distinct differences in celebrating this festive holiday.
In Japan, Christmas is viewed more as a romantic holiday than a religious one. It is popular for couples to go on dinner dates on Christmas Eve, followed by viewing festive city lights. It is similar to Valentine's Day there vs family gatherings here in the US. Gift-giving is reserved for our romantic partner or children. It is not a heavy culture on gift-giving like here in the US. It’s a little unusual to give gifts to extended family members in Japan. I always feel like people here work SO HARD to get gifts for EVERYONE! Yes, I totally think it’s an amazing culture and a fun activity but it requires a lot of work and money.
Almost all households in the US have a Christmas tree. Japanese people also decorate their homes for Christmas, but it can be a small artificial tree with some decorations or just decorate the room with lights instead of using the Christmas tree as a centerpiece, as is the custom in the United States. The biggest surprise for me was that people here in the US actually get a real Christmas tree! What a dreamy fantasy world!!! Unlike the US, as I mentioned in my previous blog “My Christmas Tree”, it’s almost impossible to get a real tree in Japan. Guess where we keep gifts? We don’t leave them under the tree in Japan. Instead, we usually hide gifts until Christmas Day. My parents used to hide gifts from me and my brother so we wouldn't find them until Christmas morning. I was smart enough to find the gifts before Christmas. I once found my brother's gift in my dad's office! Instantly, I felt so guilty for my parents as well as my little brother, so I kept the secret. I was so sneaky right? Nobody in my family still knew about this. LOL
Kids in the US enjoy opening gifts under the Christmas Tree from Santa. It’s the most fun and exciting moment on Christmas Day. But we Japanese find gifts in a unique way. The Santa or, as I would refer to him, the Japanese Santa (LOL) leaves presents right next to the kid's face or foot area on the bed. As I’m writing this, I remember as a kid waking up multiple times during the night in order to catch Santa leaving my gift on my bed, but I could never catch him.
Food is always a festive event anywhere in the world. In Japan, instead of making gingerbread houses and drinking egg nog like the US, “Christmas cake” is our must-have dessert for Christmas. You are probably wondering what it is. It’s simply a sponge cake, frosted with whipped cream and topped with Christmas decorations, chocolates or other seasonal fruits. When I was working at a restaurant in Waikiki back in the day, my old coworker asked me what the cake is for on Christmas because a Japanese customer brought it in to celebrate. It says Merry Christmas on a chocolate plate, and it was so common for me as a Japanese to see this cake. But my coworker got confused because he thought that was a birthday cake. I realized then that we don't have this culture here.
Guess what other food is popular on Christmas Day in Japan? You would be shockingly surprised and not believe me… KFC!!!! I’m not joking! It’s so popular especially among the younger generation due to the impact of KFC’s marketing. Their ads on TV are just amazing and it made everybody feel it’s a must-have food for Christmas. The advertising campaign by KFC called 'Kentucky for Christmas!' (Kurisumasu ni wa kentakkii!) was very successful and made KFC popular for Christmas. I remember that my friends and I got it and celebrated our Christmas back in the day by feasting on KFC, and of course Christmas cake as a dessert!
There is no right or wrong way to celebrate Christmas, but I just love the fact that we celebrate it so differently in the US and Japan, as well as likely in many other countries. It is important to know the history and meaning of Christmas, but being with family and enjoying a festive life event with those you love is the most important aspect of the celebration, whether it is in Japan, the US, or any other country. Of course, with delicious food and beautiful decorations. How are you going to celebrate your Christmas this year?
Wishing you a very Merry Christmas and lots of love!!!