Thursday, December 27, 2007
I remember the Christmasses of 1998 and 2005. They weren't particularly different and it's not that I remember them in any great detail. What I do remember is savouring them. During both, I knew I'd be living in Japan the following years.
Before coming here the first time in 1999, I knew that as Japan isn't a Christian country, not to expect Easter or Christmas. That year, Easter passed without any acknowledgement what-so-ever. I even worked on Easter Sunday.
Imagine my surprise in November when the department stores and shopping centres began selling Christmas decorations, playing Christmas carols and started taking orders for their version of a Christmas cake (a fluffy sponge cake with lots of cream and strawberries).
Over the next couple of months, I was lulled into a false sense of celebration. I bought and sent Christmas cards, helped in numerous Christmas parties for students at the school I worked and was looking forward to the dinner party planned on Christmas night.
Knowing that I'd otherwise be alone on Christmas morning, my friend Jodie invited me to stay with her on Christmas Eve. We could open our presents together she suggested. Her Japanese husband would be working that day, as would most Japanese, as it's just a normal working day. This fact should have clued me in to the real Japanese Christmas spirit, or rather lack there of. I happily accepted, gave her phone number to my family so they could call me on the day and packed the ingredients for the rum balls I was planning on making for the dinner party that night.
The morning started off well with a fellow ex-pat to celebrate with . While rolling the rum balls however, I realised I needed more coconut.
"Just go down to the supermarket," Jodie suggested.
I was shocked. The supermarket was open on Christmas Day? Really, it made sense, it was a normal business day after all and really quite convenient in my current prediciment.
Part of me wishes I never had gone. A tiny piece of my love for Japan died in those very moments.
I arrived at the supermarket. The same carols were playing, the same decorations on sale, though now at 50% off, the same Christmas cakes on display and housewives wandering through the aisles doing their same old grocery shopping.
I was furious, I wanted to scream, I wanted to cry, I felt betrayed. It was Christmas Day and this was so not Christmas. For months, there had been a feeling of "Christmas is coming... Christmas is coming.." and now it had come, no-one cared. They had taken everything commercial and cute from the season and none of the spirit. It was a bit like someone continually telling you that they really wanted you to come to a party and then giving you the cold shoulder when you did.
I wanted to grab the grocery-shopping-Christmas-ignoring housewives by the shoulders, shake them and say "This is it! This is Christmas! Don't you understand?!?"
Instead, I quietly bought my shredded coconut, left the centre and cried.
Now every year that I'm living in Japan and November rolls around, I get a mixture of excitement and panic about the approaching Christmas. I don't want to feel that anger and dissapointment again. I don't want the hipocracy that is Christmas in Japan rubbed into my face again.
I can't really plan a Christmas dinner with many people as most of my ex-pat friends return "home" for the holidays, and my Japanese friends are working and don't quite understand. For me, the solution is to travel. I know I'm not going to have the same family and friends with me, I know I'm not going to be eating the same Christmas treats but I do know I'll be doing something special and different. This has become my personal Christmas in Japan tradition.
So far at Christmas, I've been to Singapore, Osaka and Kobe, Hakuba and this year, to Matsumoto. For Christmas meals I've eaten Chinese, Mexican, English Pub food, Indonesian and Spanish, none of them in anyway Christmassy, but all of them special.
As long as my family and friends are in my heart and I keep this one day of the year special, I'll have Christmas no matter where I live.