Tag Archives: christmas

Christmas in Japan


Image by Flickr user Ari Helminen

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.

Image by Flickr user Foxafarian

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.

Image by Flickr user Tathei

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.

Image by Flickr user markls

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.

Image by Flickr user sleepytako

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.

Image by flickr user niachan

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.

Image by Flickr user jjarvjp

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!


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Christmas: How Asians Do It

Lights in Seoul. Via Trip Advisor.

Asia is home to almost 4 billion people of diverse histories, cultures, and religions, and yet a common thread of merrymaking unites many Asian countries as December comes along. A lot of cultures have been influenced by American and European colonizers such that long after achieving sovereignty, certain practices remain. Technology, too, contributes to the rise of a global culture where political and cultural boundaries blur.

Therefore though Christians are a minority in Asia, and Christmas at its core is a religious celebration celebrated by this group, non-Christian Asians have secular ways of taking part in it. Christmas mood is infectious! There’s all that music, those brilliant, glorious lights, the decor, the gift-giving, and the sheer joy of it all. And let’s not forget Santa and Rudolph. It’s great fun, good for the soul, and good for business.

So how do Asians celebrate Christmas? In many different ways.

India

Christmas is called bada din (the big day) and is a state holiday here, much through British colonial influence. In Goa, Christians decorate mango trees or banana plants instead of fir, and light up some clay lanterns.

Decorated banana Christmas tree. Via Paahun Tour Managers.

Santa goes to Goa. Image via Paahun Tour Managers.

Japan

Christmas is a  commercial season in Japan, and an opportunity for lovers to exchange gifts. It is pretty much a big deal, but it’s overshadowed by New Year’s which is an even bigger deal.

A minimalist tree. By Emery-Ashbel via Tumblr.

China

The Christian minority have low-key religious celebrations in China. Hong Kong and Macau, however — the former being and erstwhile territory of Britain, and the latter, of Portugal — are in full holiday gear, bedecked in all the trappings of Christmas, albeit just as a commercial peak season.

Singapore

Same goes for Singapore, where there’s a Christmas Light-Up activity, wherein rivers of twinkling lights illuminate Orchard Road and Scotts Road, and leading the way to the malls.

South Korea

A good 30 percent of its population Christian, so the Christmas celebration in South Korea is religious just as much as secular, perhaps even more so. Gifts are exchanged by everyone, and Santa drops in too, although he’s called Santa Haraboji in these parts.

A sea of Santas in South Korea. Image via Sulekha.

Christmas lights in South Korea. Via Europe & Beyond.

Philippines

As one of the two predominantly Christian Asian countries, folks here go truly over the top in their celebration, cramming 400 years of Spanish-Catholic influence and 40 years of secularized American Christmas traditions. Religious practices include novena dawn Masses called misa de gallo, Christmas Eve midnight Mass, and succeeding holidays that go on until the first Sunday after New Year’s, the feast of the Epiphany. Add Santa Claus, plastic Christmas fir trees, and Jingle Bell Rock into that mix, and you’ll get a general picture.

A "belen" or manger scene is typical Christmas decor in the Philippines -- life-sized in malls, office buildings and parks, or in a smaller scale found in living rooms. Image via Hollowayrev.


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Perfect Gifts for Foodies

It’s Foodie Tuesday!

If you partake in gift-giving this time of year, the clock is ticking! You have one week to get all your shopping wrapped up (pun totally intended). But if you have a foodie on your list, there are lots of great products out there that will have them grinning like a kid on Christmas.

Image: Terrain

I can’t imagine a cook who wouldn’t like this cute set close to the stove for a little last minute seasoning.

Image: zing anything

With the New Year comes resolutions; one of mine every year is to get healthy. Why not let your favourite foodie do it in style with a snazzy water bottle complete with a mesh-topped grinder that chops up fruit, vegetables, or herbs to infuse your beverage with great flavours but not the messy pulp?

Image: Uncommon Goods

Matching foods with the right wines can be a challenge for even serious chefs but with these tea towels at hand, your home cook will have no problem knowing which bottle to grab. As a special treat, pair this set with a bottle of red and white to get him or her started.

Image:  Eggshells Kitchen Co.

Everyone can use a practical gift like a cutting board but it doesn’t have to be boring. Joseph Joseph’s is so cute that you won’t want to hide it away in a drawer.

Image: Bar0der

Do you have a budding bartender on your list? Why not get them the Swiss Army knife of bar tools? This little beauty has every gadget necessary to craft the perfect tipple.

Image: Chef Sleeve

Like most foodies, I love cookbooks. But I frequently find myself using recipes from the Internet. It doesn’t take much imagination to think up a dozen ways that your iPad could be destroyed in the kitchen. Fortunately, Chef Sleeve has created disposable covers to keep screens clean and cutting boards with built-in stands to make reading recipes a little easier while preparing one’s mise en place.

Image: Nudo

The most obvious gift for foodies is, of course, food. But don’t settle for the standard gourmet fare- really wow them this year. Instead of picking up a bottle of olive oil you can adopt an olive tree from Nudo, who will send the recipient an adoption kit and three cans from the spring pressing of their very own tree!

Image: Williams Sonoma

Most of us can’t afford to take our loved ones truffle hunting in France or Italy but this oyster mushroom log will at least keep them in fungus without having to leave the comfort of their own kitchens and it is much cheaper than a plane ticket.

Image: visualingual on Etsy

A package of Seed Bombs would make an excellent stocking stuffer for an avid gardener or an apartment dweller; the little globes filled with seeds can be tossed outside or planted in a container to provide a yummy mix of salad greens year round.

Image: Homemade Gin Kit

Since cocktails have become the next cupcakes in the food world, give your gourmet the chance to blend botanicals to make their own gin. Simply add a bottle of vodka to the Homemade Gin Kit and 36 hours later your giftee can be mixing up his or her own cocktail creations.

No matter what gift you choose for your foodie friends, I hope you and yours have a yummy holiday season!


Posted in Food | Tagged , ,

Commemorative Christmas Ornaments

National Christmas Tree. By Chuck Kennedy via VisitingDC.com.

If you celebrate Christmas, decorating the tree becomes a tradition to look forward to. For my family growing up, we usually decorated the tree as part of our overall holiday home decorations, and we would get a set of new tree ornaments when we updated the others.

For many other families, tree decorating is also as much as a celebration of memories and sentimentality, as some ornaments reflect memorable moments and family history. Commemorative ornaments have their own special meaning, imparted by association with a particular milestone. I put together a few interesting commemorative ornaments I came across recently.

White House Christmas Ornament

Many historically significant institutions release their own ornaments every year. In the US, the White House ornament is one that almost the entire country anticipates with excitement every year. Typically the ornament reflects a milestone in the American presidency and American history.

I found this year’s ornament to be well-crafted with a unique and interesting design. The ornament is a memento of President Taft’s family, pictured in the ornament in a vintage car. The ornament commemorates the Taft family as the first “motoring” Presidential family.

Image by Renee Alfonso

National Gallery of Art

Image from the National Gallery of Art

Another Washington Institution that also puts out an ornament every year is the National Gallery of Art. The ornament is inspired by a woodcut by Albrecht Dürer, and consists of a repeated intricate patterns that form a circular design similar to a Christmas wreath.

Monogram and Photo ornaments

Image from Pottery Barn.

Photo ornaments are popular commemorative pieces. This one from Pottery Barn is also monogrammed apart from having a photo, which can give it added meaning. I find that monograms are a simple way to add a decorative personal touch to an otherwise plain design.

Handprint Ornament

Image from Young House Love.

This DIY ornament was probably my favorite of those I found. First Christmases are always special – and what better way to preserve that memory by keeping an imprint? This is seems great personal Christmas project for anyone with young children in their family. It will become a cherished memory for sure!

Christmas is definitely one of my favorite times of year, and is a time to celebrate cherished memories, as well as make new ones. Special ornaments can help keep those memories alive, bringing back them back every year to be celebrated once more.

Happy Holidays!


Posted in Culture, Design | Tagged ,

Traditional Christmas Treats in the Philippines

It’s Foodie Tuesday!

Food for the gods. Photo by Jun Belen.

Where I come from, Christmas is the biggest, most anticipated holiday of the year. It does not confine itself to the 25th of December, starting to creep into the collective consciousness as early as September and  and extending way past New Year’s. ‘Tis the season of generosity and prayer. It is also a time when social calendars are filled to the last square centimeter with parties of all sorts — from company shindigs to family reunions, alumni homecomings to church group celebrations, to random gatherings with drinking buddies neighborhood cliques.

Needless to say, this is not the time for diet — they’re doomed to fail this time of year. A lot of these gatherings feature tables laden with scrumptious edibles, and since it is not uncommon for people to squeeze in 2 lunches or 3 dinners in one go, you can do the math and imagine how it adds to the waistline. I don’t think I’ve lost all that I’ve gained last Christmas, and here it comes again. Yikes! I wish I had Jillian Michaels to yell at me for the next 6 weeks.

Anyway, I thought I’d share with you guys some traditional treats that I look forward to indulging in at noche buena, which is the meal partaken of at midnight on Christmas eve.

Queso de Bola

This name literally means “cheese ball” but despite the Spanish-sounding name, it is actually edam, and these balls roll in in large quantities in December. Filipinos love cheese, although traditionally, Filipinos aren’t big cheesemakers — I therefore chalk this up to Spanish colonial influence, as these Europeans were most likely the ones who first brought this dairy goodness to our islands. After all, they were the ones who introduced Christianity, and therefore Christmas, to these parts.

Queso de Bola. Via iGourmet.

Ham

One brand’s tagline goes, ham is “the star of the noche buena feast.” One would think that this too is a western contribution. But I think it is only partly so. Some hams that are served resemble Virginia hams — juicy, salty, with just a tad of the aged taste, but with an additional over-all sweetness that I think is a local tweak on it. But American influence came only in the last century. There are Chinese hams that I think are a much older tradition, are bought dry in mesh nets, with the skin on, and covered with “age” (my euphemism for mold) — and this is quite fantastic too, although it requires more preparation to make it ready for the table. It is saltier, drier, with a powerful punch of pungency. This is served with warm bread and slices of queso de bola.

Chinese ham. Via Wikimedia commons.

Fruitcake

Yes, this one is considered Christmas cake here too, and is available everywhere. But the only kind I’ve ever liked has been my mom’s. She used to make a bunch of these to give away to her and my dad’s friends as gifts. Now my sister makes them.

Image via Pink Lady Sweets

Food for the Gods

I know this is a strange, pagan-sounding name for a Christmas treat, but that’s what they’re called here. They are really date and walnut bars. and they come individually wrapped in foil and shiny gem-colored water cellophane wrappers. I’m not a big fan of dates, but I find these to be utterly heavenly and worthy of its name.

Food for the gods. Via Joanne's Kitchen.

Dawn Mass Treats: Puto Bumbong, Bibingka, and Tsokolate

Dawn Mass. Image via Why'd You Eat That?

As Christmas day draws near, many Filipinos prepare themselves spiritually by attendingMisa de Gallo ( Spanish, “Rooster’s Mass”), a series of nine Masses celebrated before sunrise, also called Simbang Gabi (Filipino, “Night Mass”). The last one is on the dawn of the 24th, which gears the faithful up for Christmas day Mass.

Puto bumbong steamers. Via Grace in Full Measure

Puto bumbong. Image by Trissie via Foodspotting.

As an added motivation to get up so early in the morning, for nine consecutive days, there’s got to be some good eating to be had. Puto bumbong is the traditional treat to be had when Mass is over. It is made with dark glutinous rice and coconut and steamed in bamboo tubes, served hot with a cup of tsokolate, a version of hot chocolate made with tablets of locally grown and processed chocolate, which has a strong nutty, toasty flavor, and a bitter edge that is smoothed out with sugar and milk.

Traditional equipment for making Tsokolate. Via My Food Trip.

Tsokolate. By EJ Suratos via Pingram.

Should the early risers want an alternative to puto bumbong, bibingka is also sold outside churches for variety. Bibingka is a cake made with eggs, rice flour, and coconut milk, and baked in banana leaf-lined tins with hot coals underneath and on top, which chars it a bit and gives it a smoky fragrance.

Bibingka stove. Via Grace in Full Measure.

Puto bumbong and bibingka. Via Why'd You Eat That?


Posted in Culture, Food | Tagged , ,