January and February,2018

Many of my non-Japanese friends went home for the holidays, but I stayed in Japan to experience my first Japanese Christmas and New Year’s. In many ways, the holiday season in Japan felt very familiar. There were Christmas carols playing over mall sound systems, Christmas trees here and there, and that same general sense of excitement flowing through the air. Yet, Christmas in Japan is a much smaller day. It is not a holiday. Christmas Eve is a night for couples, almost like Valentine’s Day in Canada. Separated from its religious heritage, Christmas is an entirely secular celebration. Kentucky Fried Chicken, not a turkey dinner, is the traditional meal. Excited to participate in this tradition, my husband and I went to our local KFC to order our Christmas dinner. We found out a few days later that we had completed our form incorrectly, ordering our meal not for 7pm on the 24th, but on the 19th. We were surprised when we received a phone call informing us that our order had been waiting! We enjoyed our Christmas dinner a little bit early, but that was ok with us.
New Year’s is a much bigger holiday in Japan. This is when people travel to visit family, eat special meals, give gifts, and partake in semi-religious rituals. While my husband was a little afraid of the contents of traditional osechi-ryori boxes, he was keen to eat endless amounts of mochi. The first shrine visit of the new year, called hatsumōde, is the Japanese equivalent of going to church on Christmas in the West. The thought of celebrating with hundreds of thousands, even millions, of people at the Fushimi Inari, Yasaka, or Heian Shrines was a bit overwhelming, so we chose Seimei shrine as the place to welcome a new year full of new experiences and adventures.

Chelanna White(ALT)