This is our second Christmas season in the USA. As a Japanese, I feel so special to experience American Christmas in my life. Though it is very natural, there are many differences in spending this holiday season between the USA and Japan. Not to mention, these are from what I experienced, and I'm not trying to say all Japanese or American people are doing so. But here, I pick up three things that I feel interesting in regards to Christmas.
The meaning of the Christmas
In my view, the most significant difference is the meaning of the Christmas season. Japanese Christmas is nothing to do with Christianity or Jesus Christ. It is like a season to exchange gifts, spend time with significant other, have a great dinner and cakes, and so on. For kids, Christmas means a lot: Mr./Ms. Santa Claus brings almost whatever they want!
On the other hand, the Christmas season to American people, or it may be more appropriate to say "to Christian people," this season has much more significant meanings: the days to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ and appreciate what he had done for people in the past. I was moved by a choir Christmas anthem that they sang with sincere appreciation to God.
The other day, my husband and his lab manager, who lives in the USA for more than ten years, had the following conversation:
Do you have any plans for Christmas?
Nothing special, but the dinner will be a little gorgeous. haha
Will you buy Christmas gifts for your kids?
Nah, we're not Christians.
This conversation is interesting to us because even though we are not Christian, we will probably need to be Mr./Ms. Santa Claus for our kids in the future.
Most Japanese people are not Christians. According to Wikipedia, only 1% of the Japanese population (around 1.9M Japanese people) describe themselves as Christians. I have no relatives or friends who are Christians, and I'm not as well. (But I feel the teachings of Christianity are beautiful.) From my perspective, most of us are not religious but raised and live along with the Buddhism and Shinto mindset.
Nonetheless, we love, enjoy, and appreciate the Christmas season so much. From around November, shops, roads, and neighborhoods start displaying Christmas decorations, and people start planning what to do on Christmas day or who to spend with. To the younger generation—including my younger days— and people in a romantic relationship, the December 24th and 25th are so special. The days are recognized as like the time to spend with significant other. It's also quite important season to industries. People tend to buy more things than usual for a reason like "Because it's Christmas!" In fact, we purchased many "gifts" for the same reason this December whenever we found something we want to buy for our fluffy friends (cats) and ourselves.
Anyway, Christmas is one of the special seasons for Japanese people regardless of Christianity.
Drive through Christmas Light Decoration
Last week, we drove over to one of the Candy Cane Lanes in California to see a beautifully decorated neighborhood. It was our first experience to be in a long vehicle line to appreciate the Christmas light decorations in residential areas. The view was great, and we enjoyed seeing the creative decorations from inside our car. We felt rather driving through a theme park, not a residential area.
For people curious about where to see the Christmas light decorations in Los Angeles, the following link may help: Find out where to see Christmas lights in L.A. this year | timeout.com
It seems timeout.com covers "Things To Do" in many areas and countries, so it's worth checking.
In Japan, there are places famous for walking through the winter illuminations, such as Tokyo Midtown or Ashikaga Flower Fantasy. If you are interested, japanguide.com features a lot of locations to visit:) Stunning!
A long queue to buy a live Christmas tree
In early December, we witnessed an interesting tradition at several stores here in Los Angeles: a long line to purchase a live Christmas tree. In Japan, many families display a Christmas tree in their living room, but we've never heard people doing so with a live tree—though maybe some families do. When I saw the long queues for purchasing the trees in LA, I guessed the custom might also be related to Christianity; to welcome the spirit of Jesus or God into the live tree. I thought that was so spiritual and beautiful. But later, I found out from my Christian friend that it had nothing to do with Christianity. On the contrary, he enlightened me that using live trees for the Christmas tree was controversial. For example, people need to cut down tons of live trees for just a short period display. Then those trees will be thrown away as garbage. So, many people prefer an artificial Christmas tree, which is one of the environmentally friendly options. I wish the live Christmas trees would stay with the families who bought and be appreciated as long as possible, not just for two weeks or short duration. Planting the trees in the backyard may be a wonderful option after Christmas.
To me, experiencing new things is super interesting. I love cultural diversities, different languages, appearances, mindsets, and so forth. May one day there will be no racism, conflicts between nations, or any kind, and a peaceful world exists.
Best wishes to you and yours, and many blessings for the New Year! May the pandemic over as soon as possible, and everyday life will come back.