For a country with a 1% Christian population, Christmas is HUGE here. Lights, Santa, trees, elaborate store displays -- it's on every inch of public space. At the post office today, there was even a stack of what appeared to be Christmas wrapped toilet paper, complete with a cardboard Christmas tree on top (I asked to take a photo of it, but the woman said no. To which I tell my future self: Never ask, only apologize). There seems to be a fascination and embrace of western culture, and without things like 'Thanksgiving' and 'widespread belief in Jesus' to hold people back, Christmas came to Nagoya on November 1st. Pumpkins came down. Poinsettias went up. Topiaries of woodland creatures were placed in those poinsettas. I don't get it either, but I love it.
Perhaps I would find it a bit overwhelming if I was still in the States, but I love the early Christmas season in Nagoya. It reminds me of home, it eases the cold weather, it generally makes me feel all happy and cheerful. I love shopping for presents, I love lights, I love Christmas movies; I insist on watching The Grinch at least five times during December. The decorations remind me of home, even if it's not exactly the same. (See topiary animals and dog playing the lute next to a rooster, above.)
As you may assume, Christmas is totally commercial and secular here and not an official holiday. It's a season for lights and ornate shopping displays, but people are not bringing trees into their home or leaving out cookies for Santa. Christmas cakes -- white cakes with strawberries and cream frosting -- are popular and sold everywhere from fancy department store cafes to 7-11s. The big place to eat on Christmas Eve or Day is KFC... as in Kentucky Fried Chicken. Lines are super long, and if you want a bucket, you have to preorder weeks in advance. People say it's because people here think of chicken as a traditional Christmas food, and KFC is a logical place for chicken. I like to think it's because Colonel Sanders and Saint Nick bare more than a passing resemblance. Christmas Eve is a popular date night, akin to our New Years. Japanese New Year's, on the other hand, is a quiet, family holiday, with rituals and traditions to bring luck and good fortune to your family. Shrines and temples, not clubs and bars, on Japanese New Year's Eve.
Instead of holiday cards, Nihon-jin send New Year's postcards. Department stores and post offices are stocked full of beautiful decorated cards for the year of the snake. (I never thought I'd write 'beautiful' and 'snake' together, but there you go.) Special postage rates are given, and it's only an additional ¥20 to send it abroad (about 25¢ USD). That's probably what Amos and I would have done, if, you know, we had gotten our act more together. Next year! Cultural immersion! Being adults! Saving money because, whew, the few cards we did send were not cheap.
The one major downside to the holidays here (besides, you know, having our families across the ocean) is that it is all said and done early morning on December 26th. Light season is over. Decorations come down, Christmas music is off, and the country moves on. New Year's, the bigger holiday, takes over. Lucky for us, we are taking off this weekend and won't be back until January 2nd, missing the depressing de-Christmas-ing, but still getting in on the New Years festivities. Where are we going, you ask? Oh, just a little place called NEPAL. Yeah, that's a whole 'nother post. Wait for it.
Until then... Merry Christmas!