Christmas was initially introduced to Japan with the arrival of the first Europeans during the 16th century. But it was only in recent decades that the event has become widely popular, despite the fact that Christians make up only about two percent of the population. Christmas is not a national holiday in Japan, therefore schools and businesses are open on December 25th. However, more and more people have taken up traditions such as decorating their homes, giving presents to friends, sending out Christmas cards and celebrating the event with a special meal.
Christmas is regarded as more of a time to spread happiness rather than a religious celebration and Christmas eve is often celebrated more than Christmas Day. Christmas eve is a romantic celebration, when couples spend time together and exchange presents. In many ways it resembles Valentine’s Day. Couples go for walks to admire the Christmas illuminations around town and have romantic meals in restaurants. It is almost impossible to book a table at a restaurant or a room at a hotel on Christmas eve.
It doesn’t come as a surprise that retailers are the most enthusiastic about Christmas. Just as the Halloween decorations were being taken down retail stores and shopping malls started putting up Christmas trees and other seasonal decorations. Signs advertising Christmas cakes also went up at bakeries, department stores and convenience stores. The traditional Japanese Christmas food is the Christmas cake, usually a sponge cake topped off with strawberries and whipped cream. A traditional Japanese holiday feast features KFC and Christmas cake! Somewhat odd for those of us who are accustomed to turkey, ham and apple pie during this time of year.
But not everyone in Japan has a significant other to celebrate Christmas with and it is impractical to purchase an entire Christmas cake for Christmas eve. For these folks, Christmas cupcakes are available or individual slices of Christmas cake can also be purchased. If you are not particularly fond of cake or cupcakes, stores such as Krispy Kreme offer donuts festively decorated for Christmas. You can buy one or an entire box to take home and worry about your weight goals in the new year!
There is also the traditional Japanese wagashi, a confectionary typically made of mochi, anko (azuki bean paste) and fruit, which is served with tea. This time of year, the wagashiya-sans feature specially crafted wagashi in Christmas shapes and themes.
Sometimes the Japanese tend to resort to extravagance. In 2007, there was a diamond encrusted fruit cake on display in Tokyo. Dazzling with 223 small diamonds the asking price was a mere $1.65 million U.S. The cake went on sale on Christmas.
So whether you say Merry Christmas, Happy Christmas, Meri Kurisumasu, めりーくりすますor メリークリスマス, we all agree that this is a time of celebration. And what better than to enjoy celebrating around the world and experiencing different cultures and traditions! Happy travels and happy holidays!