The holiday season is upon us and it seems like everyone is preparing to celebrate and enjoy the year-end. This time of year can be busy and fun, but it can also make those of us living abroad feel a bit homesick or nostalgic for the traditions and celebrations from our home countries and cultures. In Japan the main event is the New Year, but AFWJ members come from various countries and have a variety of ways to celebrate holidays. Our members have a knack for bringing their own traditions to their new environment, as well as starting fresh family traditions of their own. As a special treat for this holiday blog, I asked for some help from some of our members, I hope you enjoy reading about their traditions as much as I did!
Sarah in Tokyo shares some memories of her childhood and wonders how she can incorporate them into Christmas here in Japan:
“On December 24th it was off to Carols by Candlelight in the local park, sometimes stopping by a church (if mum had her way) for midnight mass. We often pleased mum by staying, but only because Christmas Eve bickies and cakes were the BEST. Tee hee hee . All the local neighbourhood kids would come and we would play catchies on the oval next door while stuffing our faces. Home we would go to set up the tent in the backyard. We wanted to catch Santa in the act! Not many chimneys in Australia, so he'd have to come in the door!
Christmas (otherwise known as "Chrissie" in Australia) morning and the feast would begin. Always a box of fresh mangoes, a huge bag of prawns, croissants and bubbly in the garden, swimmers on and sprinkler going. The morning sun would rise high and the heat would set in. Time for a nap before the BBQ lunch. The Weber would be ready and coals set. A leg of lamb or pork crackling away. Oh, I can smell the crackling now. It was always a delight waiting for the first taste of the crackling. The eskys would be filled with a bit of ice and lots of beer and wine. If friends and family were coming over, more of this in the bathtub! A long leisurely afternoon in the backyard eating and drinking! Sun goes down, time for a swim in the pool, lake or surf. On return we might remember about Santa and check the tree inside. (we hadn't been able to see him as we were too busy playing UNO in the tent.) So, now you have an Aussie Chrissie image in your mind. You may think it's crazy to have a pine tree inside for Christmas. You're right! Our was either an apple tree or eucalyptus branch stuck in a bucket of sand. Decorations were red clad kangas and koalas.
I wonder if I can incorporate any of these traditions into a cold Christmas Tokyo!? I always have prawns on Christmas day, wherever I am. They seem to keep the tears away! Cheers to Christmas wherever we are!”
Stephanie in Kanagawa brings the warmth of Thanksgiving and Christmas to her home here:
“We celebrate American Thanksgiving every year by having a potluck at our apartment. We get a Costco turkey and my husband brines and roasts it. We bought the biggest oven we could just for this purpose!
For Christmas, I try to make a gingerbread house with the kids every year. We bake lots of cookies to share, go out for light viewing, and trim the tree together. While my family didn’t open an advent calendar when I was growing up, I started doing one for my kids on my first kids’ second Christmas.”
Rachel in Oita explains how she learned to keep Christmas special for her and her loved-ones:
“I do the works! Decorations, lights, Christmas Tree, Santa sack, stockings, a big turkey roast dinner and traditional NZ desserts, REAL Christmas cake, a gingerbread house, eggnog, presents, cards, movies and music!
Early on, after my first few failed Christmases, I realized two things:
1) A holiday is a FEELING. The objects and rituals are just to generate the feeling, a sense of stepping outside of ordinary time and life. What's lacking in Japan's Christmas is that feeling (the community here is busy building up that feeling for New Year).
2) Holidays and festivals don't just happen, they are created - and mostly by women. I could see this as unfair emotional labor (and not just emotional, it's hard work!!) but instead I see it as a source of power. I have control over the family and home and use it to my advantage to create the day - the FEEL - of I want for my family at Christmas.
To that end, here's what I do:
1) Rule No.1: Do. Not. Leave. The. House. With the community around me not generating that special Christmassy feeling, and indeed usually physically dismantling Christmas by the 24th, I found early on that I could better sustain the feeling by not leaving the house. I don't want to drive through the bustle of a normal business day or see Christmas being dismantled. We always have Christmas at home, with everything we need prepared beforehand.
2) An appropriate build-up. This includes decorating the house with lights, streamers, a nativity, advent calendars, and various Christmas ornaments. The tree goes up in late November or early December, and slowly accumulates a collection of gifts under it. I play Christmas music and we watch a few movies throughout December
3) Rule No.2: NO TV! Another thing I do to give the day its special feel is ban TV (and any non-Christmas music). It's just for one day and it goes a long way towards helping us step out of ordinary time.
4) Aunties and Uncles and cousins. Off and on over the years I've invited various others to our Christmas feast, usually foreigners (they know how to act Christmassy and I don't feel like I'm on display). All the kids running around and the grown-ups chatting are like surrogate aunts and uncles and cousins, and add to giving the day the family feel it has back home (and give my kids the invaluable childhood experience of 'the kids' table').
5) Spread out the rituals. This is really my own innovation, but based partly on our family's tendency to have one Christmas feast lunch at home and then go to our Aunt and Uncle's for dinner (or vice versa). We never got bored on Christmas Day, and there were always more presents waiting! So I've developed my method of spreading out the joy: Santa presents first thing, followed by coco pops for 'first breakfast'. Then we go to church (sometimes) then a brunch of ham and eggs (my family's traditional Christmas breakfast). We get on skype after that and chat with Grandma or family back home while opening their presents. Next comes the big turkey roast, and whatever guests we may have (I like to do a white elephant gift round with adult guests). Then dessert, and finally, once everyone has gone home, and just the immediate family are there, we open our presents to each other.
I've come to love our own family Christmas. Meanwhile, back home, everything's changed. With my mother older and Dad gone, they don't have the big family Christmas they used to. The torch is being passed to the kids, and that's still being worked out. So I feel less and less like I am missing something, and more and more nostalgic for what I have created.
And this year... for the first time, one of us won't be here! I intend to make use of the final Dec 23 holiday and shift Christmas there (as I know many others in Japan do already) and I remain undecided about what to do on the actual day!”
Charmaine in Oita tells us how she brings the flavours of home to Japan.
“Home baked Christmas goodies are a particularly fond memory from my childhood...looking back, I spent an awful lot of time at weekends or after school either ‘helping’ Mum (by licking out the cake bowl) eating her wonderful cakes and steamed puddings or just flicking through pages and pages of her fascinating cookbooks.
Christmas preparations seemed to start months before...with several evenings spent just hand mincing pounds and pounds of dried fruit ,peel,suet,apples and even carrots (for Christmas puddings). Mum was one of six siblings, and being the best cook of the three girls she made sure that various branches of the family were provided for at Christmas. Rows of Christmas puddings wrapped up and maturing on the pantry shelf, evenings when the whole house smelt of Christmas spices as several cakes baked in the oven, and minced pies being rolled out and filled by the dozen.....
So....I had to continue this tradition somehow after I moved to Japan! As soon as I had a fairly decent oven in my flat, sold to me by a fellow teacher returning to the US, and had purchased enough mini packets of dried fruit, the Christmas baking began. Mince pies at first, then soon moving on to the traditional English Christmas fruitcake when I realized that what passed as Christmas cake in Japan was a sponge with strawberries and cream on top! Reaching a peak at one point with orders of over 30 cakes, I’ve had to cut back to orders from a handful of ‘old friends’ only....those in AFWJ you know who you are. I love baking and decorating your cakes and for me, it simply wouldn’t be Christmas otherwise!”
What lovely stories, thanks so much for sharing!
As for my family and I, we’ve tried a few things over the years to make the holidays special. As a couple, my husband and I would always have fondue on Christmas and kept it as the romantic date night that it often is in Japan. Once we had a kid, we started in with traditions from my childhood - a tree, stockings, Santa and added Christmas karaoke in the afternoon. Now that my son is older, he just wants to stay home and play with his new stuff, so we've stopped with the karaoke and just hang out at home. It is pretty similar to my own childhood memories but we don’t have a big feast awaiting us at the end of the day.
It is interesting to see how our members bring little bits of home to their celebrations in Japan, I hope you enjoyed reading their stories as much as I did.
Have a wonderful holiday season from all of us here as AFWJ!
~Sandra in Okinawa