Thursday, December 11, 2008

Have yourself a very melly Christmas too...

Now that both the Canadian and American Thanksgivings are out of the way, it's time to focus our attention on what's really important: buying shit for Christmas!!! Now I should preface this by reminding you all that I am from the Hanukkah tribe and not the one that also includes Christmas trees (not that there's anything wrong with that). Or "Hanukkah bushes" for that matter, which instead of a thinly-veiled Christmas tree makes me think of what someone might call getting some holiday lovin' from their partner who doesn't believe in waxing. No, we deal strictly with menorahs.

I've participated in a Christmas celebration maybe three times, and this has been on the extremely rare occasion that I was in the US visiting my family in the Christmas tribe. And well, I love them to bits so honestly no complaints there. But the years of being the only Hanukkah girl at school, nay for miles, I have come to reject every aspect of Christmas as something I might possibly engage in. During the years La Familia de Geisha spent in New Zealand, my parents had to go and talk to my brother's teacher when he was 6 and ask her to stop telling the class that the Jews killed Jesus. When I was 7 my teacher sat the class down for me and taught them that they should stop drawing swastikas in the classroom. No, none of this has to do with Christmas and I am not trying to jerk any tears with an oh-poor-me Hanukkah girl act, but growing up in the environment I did, (I think) really made me equate Christmas with the Christian religion, despite that for many, it is a secular holiday. I cannot imagine celebrating it as a secular holiday, which is really the crux of why I think it is so batshit crazy the way Japanese people celebrate Christmas!

Take for example, last week. I was enjoying a pleasant stroll around the Ginza, because really what other kind of stroll is to be had there? and my ears were suddenly assaulted by Christmas music. Granted if I walk into a store I am consciously subjecting myself to hearing whatever they have spinning, but I would like to enjoy my walks outside at this time of year sans Christmas music. I will probably get some flack for this post which is fine, because I have no problem with other people doing Christmas, I just wish it hadn't become this blanket holiday that you would think everyone participated in from looking at the amount of public hooplah that surrounds it.

I think my main problem is that I simply cannot separate Christmas from Christianity and have never been able to understand how my Hindu, Buddhist and Atheist friends do. The beau is not into Christmas and so you would think given that Christmas here is not a national holiday, I would be able to avoid it. Not quite, as many couples with scheduling conflicts do Christmas on the 23rd, which is the ever-so-convenient Emperor's birthday. Nevertheless, in the past couple years we have managed to do OK with a movie and Japanese food, the Japanese- Jewish equivalent of a Jewish Chinese-food-and-movie Christmas.

Christmas is one of the best Western things to hit the retail and food industry in Japan in the last century. Between the two of them, these industries have fashioned a holiday that appeals to the Japanese love of eating, buying exorbitant gifts and factory-standard dates. Check out any magazine on the stands this month and there will be at least a few pages dedicated to romantic hotel packages, restaurants with special Christmas courses, suggested gifts from Louis Vuitton and the requisite fried chicken take-out places. All of this food, shopping and lovin' is fine by me, I just wish it wasn't all in the name of the birth of baby Jesus, granted many Japanese think it is actually Santa's birthday on the 25th. I have rarely tried to articulate this to a Japanese person, for asking them why they are celebrating a Christian holiday is usually met with a short and furious burst of blinks.

Those who do not live in Japan would probably assume that we are fairly isolated from Christmas over here but it's quite the opposite in fact. Every year in Japan too, I deal with my feelings over whether to nod and smile or correct people when they either wish me a Merry Christmas or ask me what I'm doing for Christmas, and these are Japanese people. Even the Kaisha is having a Christmas party that should rightly be named a 1000-person bonenkai, except for the chorus interlude when a group sings some Christmas songs. Yup, they sing their little hearts out to a room full of Japanese people, 2% of which probably know who Jesus is.

There is a fantastic article here written a few years ago about Christmas in Japan that my dad sent me when I was first studying here. I do feel for the foreigners here who can't be with their family back home on Christmas, and I hope that at least the superficial celebrations of it here get them in the Christmas spirit, as I believe they call it, but for me I think it will always be something that makes me flinch. For something that is so often touted and assumed to be a shared cultural holiday, I think it's not shared by as many people as we think.


jaredinnakano said...

As a fellow non-Xmas celebrator, I understand your exasperation with Japan's manic obsession for it.

Although totally unrealistic, I keep hoping the Japanese will adhere literally to the title of their favorite George Michael/Wham 80s song, "Last Christmas."

Lisa said...

Great post! I am a Christian (although... not really practicing too much) in the US and my Christmas experiences have been totally secular, so it is interesting to hear your take on this. I would also not be so keen on Christmas if I'd had the experiences that you did. :(

When your boyfriend was a kid, was Christmas this big of a deal there? I wonder when it started to get popular. I guess maybe the Japanese just see it as a Western holiday and therefore don't make the religious distinction. Here, I think most people would go with a generic "Happy Holidays" if they were talking to a stranger, but I suppose over there it's different if the holiday is viewed as secular and no different than, say, Labor Day.

I think my husband and I will be celebrating US Thanksgiving over there next year!

DBR said...

In case you are interested in attempting to psychologically separate Christmas from Christianity check out this article I know it's from Christianity Today (not somewhere I would usually frequent) but it is actually an excellent, short, unbiased article on the reasons that the Church chose to put "Christmas" on Dec 25th and in fact why they decided to celebrate it at all (it was quite controversial at the time to encourage a pagan-esque celebration on the same day as the birth of two Sun gods was celebrated.) You'll see that most of the stuff that sticks about Christmas (trees, holly, mistletoe, feasting, gifts) are actually universal celebrations of winter and light (hmm sounds eerily close to a certain Festival of Lights, too. We're none of us that far from each other in our hearts :) )

Kira Petersson-Martin said...

Wow. I never thought I'd find a Jew in Japan... If i ever get there, nice to know i won't be alone.

You know, my rabbi always says that people shouldn't say "Merry Christmas" to you, because it's not your holiday, but they don't know that. On the other hand, he says we SHOULD say "Merry Christmas" to them, because it IS their holiday. He equates it to birthdays. Nobody tells you "Happy Birthday" when it's not your birthday, but you still say it to other people when it's their's...

I don't know. My daughter's started saying "Mommy, I want Mis-mas!" and I'm not looking forward to that artificial, "Well, we don't have Christmas, but we have Channukah, which is almost as good (blah blah)."

At least in Japan all of that cultural baggage can take a back seat? To an extent.

Kelley Dawne said...

Yah, the boyfriend is not a fan of Christmas either. It makes me sad because it's my favorite time of year. I'm not religious in the slightest (much to the parents' dismay) but I love the atmosphere, music, etc.
When the boyfriend mocks Christmas I get angry. lol. But he's trying to see it from a Canadian point of view and not the Japanese one, which he says is stupid.

Green-Eyed Geisha said...

jared: I loved your post! I find myself walking home at night sometimes humming that song! It's madness!

Lisa and Kira: if either of you are coming to Tokyo I'd be happy to hook you up with anything you need so just say the word.

I don't know if it's because his family is pretty traditional, but the beau never celebrated it as a kid. I think in recent years it has certainly grown but it's been around for quite a while. I guess people find it enchanting and if I didn't know what it was, I probably would too.

DBR: Thanks for the link, I checked it out. I'm not really interested in attempting to separate Christmas from Christianity as I am not looking to participate in Christmas, I was just trying to explore why it is that I shy away from it so much. I think it's fine for people to celebrate it secularly and for many people, that is exactly the kind of holiday it is, but I find it irritating and offensive that it overtakes practically everything else at this time of year and people makes assumptions about my Christmas spirit. And no we are not far from each other in our hearts at all, very close in fact, but that doesn't mean we all have to celebrate what is for some, a Christian holiday. Just for the record, Hannukah is actually a very minor holiday on the Jewish calendar and has grown in response to the Christmas madness, but that is a whole other kettle of sakana.