Friday, December 28, 2012

Ken-Bun-Ki "US Christmas = Japan's New Year"

Note: "Russell's Ken-Bun-Ki" is a series of articles I wrote for my Japanese City Hall newsletter back in 1996-97. They were articles about life in America or life in Japan as experienced by an American. This one is from December 19, 1996. 

 Here's a quiz for you. What holiday is it where your family gets together to eat a special dinner, you visit relatives, you give presents to people who have helped you out in the past year, you watch special TV programs and movies, and it's the kids' favorite time of the year?

I'm sure everyone (in Japan) said, "New Years," of course. However, in the United States the answer is, "Christmas."

In America Christmas is a family holiday. There are no "Christmas Parties" or "Office Parties" on Christmas day. There are office parties with your co-workers where you drink, dance, and date, but usually these are New Year's Eve parties.

In America we don't have drinking parties for "Forget the Last Year" or "Welcome the New Year." When work is done many offices hold Christmas parties at the offices. Many companies finish work before Christmas or New Years and take a few days off. Most companies are off approximately four days. On the last working day, many offices have either an office Christmas party or New Years party. At most of these the spouses are also invited. Have you seen the movie Die Hard? the beginning of that movie is an office Christmas party. The star, Bruce Willis, is the husband of one of the employees. In this type of situation, attendance as a couple is normal.

In America we do not send out New Year's greetings cards; we send Christmas cards. Christmas has a religious connection as Christ's birthday, but because there are many different religions in America I prefer the greeting, "Happy Holidays!" to "Merry Christmas!"

Have a great new year!

(I'm sorry if this is hard to read!)

This is another one of those articles that was written for the Japanese about US customs. So let me tell you more about what the Japanese customs are so *you* can compare.... 

Christmas in Japan is an excuse for young adults to have sex. If you are in a relationship it's a huge date night. (Think US New Year's Eve!) You will most likely have a dinner date with your significant other and you will get a hotel room for the night because you both still live with your parents (or in a college or company dorm).
Another Japanese Christmas tradition is Christmas Cake. I think this treat came from Europe, because I had never heard of it. I'll never forget the first time my Japanese friends showed up at my house with a Christmas Cake and were terribly disappointed that I didn't know what it was! By the way, young women over the age of 25 are often derogatorily called "Christmas Cakes" because, similar to the confection after Christmas day, after they are 25 nobody wants them. 

The other odd Christmas tradition in Japan involves Kentucky Fried Chicken. I don't know how this tradition started, either, but at the end of December *everybody* gets a family pack of chicken from KFC. I think it has something to do with Colonel Sanders' resemblance to Santa Claus.

Likewise, in Japan New Years is a waaaay low-key affair. You stay home with your family and watch the Japanese equivalent of "Dick Clark's Rocking' Eve," called "The Red-White Song Battle." It's a show where teams of male and female singers alternate live concerts for the three or so hours preceding the New Year. On New Years' Day you watch live marathon/relay races while eating a special brunch, then at about 11 am you look over all the New Years' cards you get, delivered en masse by the Post Office *on* January 1. Then you may get dressed up and visit the Shrine to pray for prosperity in the new year. Finally you spend the rest of the day with relatives eating special foods and getting drunk. At least, that was the way people celebrated the New Year in my Japanese home-town. :-)

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