Friday, December 28, 2012

A Magic, Peaceful, Love Christmas

Roughly 2% of the Japanese population is Christian, but they certainly know it’s Christmastime. Featuring themes like “Peaceful Chrismas,” “Magic Christmas,” and “Love Christmas," decorations and holiday music were in stores by early November.

But Christmas is not a public holiday, nor is it a family holiday, and you don’t usually give or receive gifts. New Year’s is the holiday for family and gift giving (usually cash) and Christmas Eve or Christmas is for date night, or if at home, a dinner of roast or fried chicken, and Christmas cake. A lot of people are surprised when I tell them I’ve never had chicken or Christmas cake for Christmas dinner, since they assume these particular traditions must have come from America or elsewhere. I think the fried chicken came from KFC trying to boost sales in the Japanese market.

So exactly how have we celebrated Christmas this winter? Yes, even I found myself in a celebratory spirit this winter, perhaps to the surprise of friends and family familiar with my usual Christmas funk. Good timing with a baby on the way since disliking Christmas probably isn’t allowed for the next 18 or so years. 

Volunteered at a Children’s Home 
The last few years, Jason and I have focused on trying to bring more Christmas spirit into the day by volunteering. So I signed up when I received an email from the Tokyo Mothers Group about their annual Christmas sponsorship of a Tokyo orphanage. I was concerned that a children’s home, Christmas, and pregnancy emotions could be a volatile combination, but I underestimated just how joyful young children are. Without romanticizing their circumstances, they were as playful and fun and happy to have someone spending time with them as any child is.

The girl in the picture facing my stomach, kept yelling “Okitte” or “wake up” to the baby because she wanted to feel it move. We enjoyed a very American feast of Domino’s pizza and Kentucky Fried Chicken and passed out gifts to each of the different age groups.

"Baby, wake up in there!"
Volunteered at an elementary school party 
One of Jason’s colleagues volunteers for an English/Chinese enrichment class every month at a local elementary school. She invited us to attend/assist with their Christmas activities. Jason downloaded carols, printed off lyrics, and bought some Christmas treats for the kids. In addition to practicing English with the kids, we also butchered some Chinese words. Japanese is hard, but at least the pronunciation is relatively simple.

Christmas Tea 
Tokyo has many luxury hotels and nearly all of them feature high tea. After going to the Ritz-Carlton high tea with friends in October, we made plans to try a Christmas themed high tea. The very luxurious Peninsula Hotel was not the same as the 37th floor of the Ritz-Carlton, but it was still delicious and festive. This is a tradition that I’m really looking forward to enjoying with our little girl. And only about  another dozen or two high teas to enjoy in Tokyo...

Christmas Cake 
We did not pre-order a Christmas cake, as many people do, but we did pick up two slices for Christmas Eve dinner. The traditional Christmas Cake is the vanilla/strawberry confection in the picture.

Incidentally, unmarried women over the age of 25 used to be referred to as “Christmas Cake”, because who wants Christmas cake on the 26th or later? I think this has fallen out of fashion as the age at which young people marry has increased, but people still understand the reference.

Mmm, Christmas Cake...

Even our small apartment was imbued with some Christmas cheer. We inherited an artificial tree set with lights and decorations from a previous Mansfield Fellow.  Jason found an “Engrish” banner at the hyaku-en store (Japanse dollar store) and his parents also sent some Christmas decorations. I liked our fake, Charlie Brown-esque Christmas tree. I also liked that it took all of about 5 minutes to put it up and will be equally easy to take down.

Buying gifts for the baby 
We exchanged gifts, but more fun was buying “surprise” gifts for the baby for each other to open. I got her some board books for Daddy's reading pleasure. One features polar bears and the other features brown bears. Jason got her a very cozy winter set so we can bring her home from the hospital.

Christmas Dinner 
We took Christmas day off, while most people had returned to work following the December 24th public holiday recognizing the Emperor’s birthday. After breakfast and gifts, we went to Kichijoji, one of our favorite neighborhoods on the western edge of Tokyo. 

It features a beautiful park, lots of interesting shops, great restaurants, and a more relaxed atmosphere than other Tokyo neighborhoods. We went back to a Swedish restaurant we discovered on our last visit and enjoyed their special 7-course Christmas menu. Sorry kids, we even ate Rudolph. Since we don’t have too many fancy dinners left in our near future, it was fun to enjoy one of our favorite Tokyo restaurants in our final BC (Before Child) weeks.

So from Tokyo to you: we hope you also had a magic, peaceful, love Christmas with or without fried chicken, reindeer or Christmas Cake.  And “Yoi o-toshi o shite kudasai” (Happy New Year).

One last piece of Christmas Cake, consumed on the 26th...

No comments:

Post a Comment

Email is a challenge with our little kabocha (pumpkin), but feel free to keep in touch via the comments.