The Holidays ABROAD

Tuesday, December 20, 2011
 It will be my second Christmas spent in Japan and I think I am getting the hang of it. I know where to go to get my Christmas dinner menu items, where to find bulbs that go with my tree's color theme and know where to go to get my light show fix.

This year I have been receiving the same question from friends back home and you lovely readers, "What is the difference between the way Americans celebrate Christmas and New Years compared to the Japanese?" I decided to write a little article about being abroad.  Separating this blog from my usual Style and Fashion, I hope the article can sum up what my "opinions" are regarding the comparison.

Holidays Abroad

"A Sterotypical Standpoint"

Students in America tend to lose all concentration on their studies as they anxiously await their holiday vacation. Employees decorate their desktops and fill tree-shaped, glass bowls full of peppermint candy canes as they discuss their fellow co-workers questionable behavior at last year’s Christmas party, and ladies swarm to department stores in hopes that it will be the last stop to find the perfect party dress. Multiple charities organize kiosks in malls in hopes for generous shopper’s donations and the majority of city streets are lined with assortment of lights, bells and faux snow sprayed storefronts. This is the Holiday season in America. The time of year when families reunite after months of separation to celebrate the Christian based religion and the beginning of a New Year.

Across the ocean, December 25th, Japanese school children head to class in their standard uniform, the trains are jammed packed with Salary men and few storefront windows showcase kitchy décor of cotton stuffed Saint Nick’s, plastic brown reindeer and faux trees decorated with bright gold tinsel. Similar to the US the main shopping areas are decorating beautifully with lights weaving through the branches of the street-lined trees and poinsettias are sold at every flower shop.  Rarely do you see angels or caroling, and in my two years here I have yet to see an old man dressed up as Santa with a herd of eager children in line to meet him.  In contrast to America’s commercial yet family oriented holiday, Japanese Christmas is a feeble replica of media based celebrations they have mimicked from Western ideas of the holiday.

With about a 1% Christian following in Japan, Christmas is thought of as a Romantic holiday. While Americans typically spend the day and those leading up to the holiday, with their family and distant relatives, Japanese go to work and school as planned and schedule an evening with their latest love affair. At lunch and work Japanese girlfriends gloat to one another about their impending dinner reservations on the Eve of Christmas as their not-so-lucky colleagues sulk in a depressive state of embarrassment for not having one. Romance is the idea of Christmas within the Japanese community. Young Japanese women anticipate a dinner date invitation for the day before Christmas, which typically indicates a step forward in a current relationship or initiation of a future one. 
The tradition of Christmas cake is prevalent in the Japanese culture. Many bakeries and shops push to sell their cakes by the end of Christmas Eve. The remaining cakes are said to be called “Old Cakes.” In Japan the metaphor is used when describing a woman over the age of 25 who does not have a date or husband on Christmas. (Let's hope that the age limit has gone up, considering that 25 is anything but old.)

Unlike the Japanese, Americans often say farewell to their short term flings and embrace the travel home for the holidays solo. Family is of main importance on this holiday and unless married or in a serious relationship it is uncommon to spend with a new lover. In Japan however young Japanese men who have planned a romantic evening on Christmas Eve for himself and his date, often book the fancy restaurants and hotels with their main squeeze or new love interest.

 The tradition of Cake isn’t the only culinary tradition for Japanese on their Christmas holiday. While foreigners in Tokyo are catering their turkey dinners from Restaurants around the city and paying high prices for ham at Nissin, Japanese are picking up their pre-ordered buckets of Kentucky Fried Chicken. Christmas chicken dinner is the tradition rather than turkey or ham.

Although Japanese find Christmas to be for romance and courting they head home for family time to celebrate the New Year. Contrary to Americans who dress up in sequins, suits and hit the town in hopes to find that special someone to lock lips with when the clock strikes midnight. Champagne is poured by the bottles in the US as many shout out their New Year resolution, most commonly losing weight or quit smoking. While the Americans are half obliterated and cheering under fireworks, Japanese spend the New Year holiday huddled around their traditional Kotatsu with immediate family.  While Americans keep an internal dialogue of new resolutions, Japanese gather at the local temples in hopes of good fortune for the New Year. Wishing for health, love, happiness, and education achievements. 

Holidays are celebrating in a variety of different styles, traditions and values. Many American families install their own customs and rituals just as Japanese celebrate individually from their neighbors. However, there is a heap of differing traditions between the Japanese and American holiday season. Making celebrating abroad one of the major assimilation's for a foreigner living in Japan, just as it would be to be immersed into the American conventionalism of Christmas and New Years.  So if you find yourself abroad it may be fun to eat some KFC, buy a fresh cake and wish for good future fortunes at the same time stuff your face with turkey, candy canes and champagne. You can really have your cake and eat it too.

* Thank you to the Temple University Students who shared their stories and traditions :)



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