The lamps of December have begun to light up….

Japanese Xmas Deco.

“The lamps of December have begun to light up slowly
And everyone without exception starts liking the busily dancing city”

~B’z

And it’s true– for the western world, at least, there is only one day left until Christmas Eve; one of the most internationally celebrated holidays around the globe. Because it’s so widely observed, and so varied in observational practices, I find it really interesting to hear how many different people choose to celebrate.

I, personally, always start my December off with the stout-hearted declaration to not put my Christmas-gift shopping until the very last minute. I was ahead of schedule, making that declaration early in November. I just finished my shopping yesterday.

During Christmas/ New Years time (New Years being the largest holiday in Japan), I always feel the yearning to be in Japan the most poignantly. I can imagine clearly watching the snow fall over a Kyoto street, while sipping hot sake, legs tucked under a kotatsu table.

Kinkakuji temple, Kyoto

Back in the ’90s the national statistics for Christians in Japan were somewhere around 1 or 2%, so pretty much needless to say, the holiday has not caught on as a religious celebration. The common Japanese traditions in the celebrating of Christmas usually include a romantic date for couples, small gifts for children, and the purchase of a Christmas Cake. (A “Christmas Cake” is a purely Japanese invention: a sponge cake with whipped cream, topped with a sumptuous excess of whole strawberries, chocolate ornaments, and Santa or snowmen figurines.  They are strictly purchased, never homemade, and usually collected on Christmas Eve.) Families will often eat western-style food, such as fried-chicken or pizza as a special dinner treat.

However, several times Tokyo has been given the annual award for Most Beautiful Christmas Decorations, and Japan has, nationally, exquisite and elaborate displays of lights, trees, and outdoor performances.

Christmas time, aside from being a commercial rodeo, has also become a time for appreciating and doting on your “taisetsuna hito”, or precious/loved ones. Even more so than Valentine’s Day, Christmas is a time for romance, couples, and spending time with the one you love. The Japanese have even developed their own unique form of melancholy: that of missing a loved one at Christmas time.

— Very early GACKT performance on an outdoor stage, singing Silent Night (all in English) with pop-princess Hamasaki Ayumi. A beautiful, heartfelt performance– and quite possibly of one of the most difficult songs for a Japanese person to pronounce. Remembering that the Japanese language has no “v”, and switches around their “l”s and “r”s, put on your Japanese accent and try saying “virgin”, “silent night”, and “sleep in heavenly peace”. If you were Bah-humbugging it up before, this may be all you need to get you back into the holiday cheer.

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