On this side of the world, Christmas celebrates family and coming together to celebrate the end of the year and hope for the coming one. Just like other celebrations however, in different parts of the world Christmas might have a different cultural significance.
Christmas has its origins in the Christian faith, so it might be celebrated differently in some some countries where Christianity might not be a prominent religion. Coming from a dominantly Catholic country, to me it always had a meaning that was connected to religion.
In Japan, where Christianity is not a dominant religion, Christmas is celebrated rather differently and has gained a meaning that is linked more to contemporary culture instead of spiritual traditions.
Christmas eve in Japan is a holiday to be spent with loved ones – in a much more literal sense. It’s kind of like the equivalent of Christmas in July, but instead you could think of it as Valentine’s day in February.
Christmas eve is a night for lovers, romanticized by the festive holiday lights and displays. Couples are the focus of this holiday, and most christmas celebrations center around romantic love, making it the equivalent of what valentine’s day would be in places such as the US and Canada.
There are a couple of traditions that have been adapted in Japan during the holiday season with varied approaches. Exchanging gifts is also done as a sign of good will, but not everyone partakes, possibly because it is more traditional to give a gift of goodwill to people who have helped you during the year at New Year’s.
Families also prepare a Christmas meal, but it’s far from what you would expect. In recent years the Christmas meal of choice for many Japanese in urban areas is Kentucky Fried Chicken. This started a few decades ago when Christmas wasn’t a widespread holiday (it still isn’t a national holiday today), and has since become tradition.
The meal is similar to what families in the US would do for thanksgiving – place an order in advance to avoid waiting in a line for a special portion of chicken, christmas cake, and other special goodies.
And speaking of christmas cake – Japanese christmas cake isn’t the traditional fruitcake you would expect, either. It’s basically a soft sponge cake decorated with strawberries and cream icing, sometimes with a greeting or other holiday garnish. I personally enjoyed eating this kind of christmas cake – it was light sweet but not overly laden with fruit and spice.
Wherever in the world you celebrate though, Christmas never fails to be the most festive time of year. However you decide to celebrate, may your days be merry and bright!