Статьи Скотта Гормана (Scott Gorman)

January 13, 2009

Christmas: Mixed Feelings, Two Continents

About two years ago at this time, I was in northern Japan, facing my first Christmas outside the United States. I was looking forward to it so much.

You see, I do not really celebrate Christmas as anything other than a time for people to get together with family. It has no religious significance of any sort to me, and while I respect and appreciate the love of this custom that so pervades others, it’s omnipresence can be a bit wearing for some, particularly in what is still by and large “a Christian Nation.”

Cards and bells and endless cheer forced through a wallet and out the other side. The use of religious symbols to create junk toys and effluvia. The ignoring, by and large, of the poor and needy until this one month a year, more a salve than a real reaching out — that would take all 12 months.

So there I was, in a nation that is 90 percent atheist as we know it — although deeply religious. It is said a Japanese is born Shinto (essentially a state religion) and dies Buddhist. Christian-style weddings are very popular. And there isn’t anyone to tell you one is wrong and the other right.

I had not read up on Christmas in Japan. But I stupidly assumed that a non-Christian nation may take a pass at Christmas, or at most give a small bow as it passed by.

Poor, poor pitiful me. I found out the hard way that the Japanese love Christmas for the exact reason some Christians here have come to dislike it. It is the season for buying things in a daze, for fake-looking Christmas outfits, down to the girl in Harajuku Square in Tokyo who was dressed on a December Sunday as Santa — and her four reindeer were a bunch of skinny guys wearing shorts, reindeer paint, and large racks of antlers on each head. Rudolph-san had lipsticked his nose a bright red.

But just like here, it was mostly constant commercial appeals, guilt-edged buying, frantic electronic Christmas carols blasting through tinny speakers on almost every main street.

Now I was getting nervous. It seemed to me that the Japanese loved everything about Christmas except the birth of Jesus. I hardly knew how to deal with that. I did not see the day or the man as divine either. But it dawned on me that at least back home, I had seen many people to whom this was more than just a commercial party. Not so many as I would like, but a good many. I respected them for that.

But there is no need or call to disrespect the Japanese. They saw what we looked like, and duplicated it, and now it is their holiday, religious or not. There are ceremonies and rituals that reach back before the birth of Christ, and they take those very seriously, indeed. Christmas is for fun only, for playing dress up and buying lots of stuff. And there is one other custom at Christmas Eve I became aware of.

Please don’t be offended. And please don’t try to get a room to rent in Japan on December 24. They are all taken. For some reason of which I am unaware, Christmas Eve has become a time to meet your lover — your husband or wife, girl or boyfriend or casual acquaintance — for a night away from home and between the futons. No joke — it is something written about with a wink and a nudge in national, respectable newspapers.

That is the Christmas custom I most associate with the Japanese. But some families I know here do exactly the same thing.

Open their presents on Christmas Eve, that is. What did you think I meant?

Pages: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16