A good comparison would probably be the American version of Valentine’s Day. I mean, sure, there’s a religious tradition in there somewhere, but it’s been so warped that now it’s really just a chance for kids to exchange cards and yours truly to eat too much chocolate. (Valentine’s Day in Japan is totally backwards, but I’ll save that for February.)
Here most people celebrate Christmas on the evening of the 24th. They eat fried chicken and “Christmas Cake,” which is usually a strawberry and whipped cream topped vanilla sponge. Interestingly enough, Kentucky Fried Chicken (known in Japan simply as Kentucky) is strongly associated with Christmas. Usually, there is a Colonel Sanders statue outside. He is dressed like Santa during the holiday season, and you actually have to reserve your “holiday bucket” weeks ahead of time.
Santa brings one gift for each child. I think he comes when the kids are at school, since the 24th and 25th are regular work days here. Family members don’t exchange gifts. There is no nativity scene or church attendance. Relatives don’t come to visit. Grandparents don’t call.
The next day, the tiny tree comes down and the New Years decorations go up. Christmas, Inc. is over for another year, quickly forgotten in the face of the upcoming New Years celebrations, the biggest event of the Japanese year.
But watch out! If you misbehave in Japan, Santa will come back and take your toys away.
This is an original post to World Moms Blog from mother of two in Japan, Melanie Oda. You also can find Melanie writing on her personal blog, Hamakko Mommy.
Photo credit to Jennifer Burden. Blue Christmas tree at Haneda Airport in Japan.