I started thinking about “The Christmas Post” a few weeks ago, somewhere around the writing of Thanksgiving in Japan.
I’ve even been kicking around a parody of “The Night Before Christmas” in my head, maybe poking fun at some of the unique ways Japanese folks celebrate the American holiday (December 25 isn’t an official holiday in Japan). In a country where about 1 percent of the population identifies as Christian, Christmas is much more about the secular celebration—more Valentine’s Day than what Americans think of as Christmas.
In the 1970s, an American visiting a Tokyo branch of Kentucky Fried Chicken commented that, in a country where turkey is hard to come by, a bucket of KFC is the next best thing. The enterprising store manager overheard the comment and launched an advertising campaign touting “Kentucky For Christmas!” Today, people order their buckets of chicken weeks in advance, waiting in long lines on Christmas Eve to pick up their now-traditional chicken dinner.
There’s also a lot of preordering and long-line-waiting for extravagant and expensive Christmas Cakes. The origins of the cake come from the post-World War II recovery of the country. NPR recently did an excellent story about what Christmas Cake really means in Japan.
All that said, my take on this post changed today while watching a toddler shoving a cookie in his face at the checkout line. I caught his eye and he smiled big and waved. That got me to thinking about the spirit of the people we encounter every day, which made me feel bad about my “Night Before Christmas” parody.
To me, Christmas is all about traditions. And the great thing about traditions is that they can change as we change. Our families grow and contract and grow again as the years go by and our traditions update accordingly.
As a kid, I’d wake up early and start coffee on Christmas morning to make sure my folks would be awake enough that we could open presents—although I suspect my dad was awake before I was. I always made sure our dog, Sampson, had something to open as well. We’d have bear claws or butterhorns for breakfast.
In recent years, we’d spend a day in Leavenworth, WA, taking in the famous holiday celebration in the small Bavarian-style town, stopping for Starbucks Peppermint Lattes both on the way up and on the way back. We’d then host the whole family for dinner on Christmas Eve. This year, we’ll start a new tradition.
KFC for Christmas dinner might seem odd. There are no “Jesus is the Reason for the Season” signs in our neighborhood. Yet, Japan has created its own set of traditions. Christmas isn’t a national holiday, but it’s still a time when people show a little more kindness and a little more cheer.
This week, I’ve seen a hairdresser and a pizza delivery guy dressed in Santa suits and a dog wearing a Christmas sweater. “Illuminations” are popular and bountiful. Twinkling lights and guys in Santa suits yield the same joyful reaction here as they do in the U.S.
The Christmas season is one of the few times we Americans set aside our differences. We smile more, give more and spend a little more time together in community. Seeing the season from another perspective, in a society where the community is always the priority over the individual, shows that it’s possible to make that sense of community the norm instead of a seasonal exception.
So, whatever your flavor of the winter holidays may be, I sincerely wish you the happiest season. May that joy continue through the year to come. Happy Holidays!