(This was originally meant to be posted before New Year’s, but was delayed due to holiday-associated craziness. It will be presented in two parts: Christmas and New Year’s)

Santa comes to Japan (along with Elmo).

We put up the Christmas tree just before the beginning of Advent [November 28th]. It wasn’t technically the first time my daughter had seen it, although I doubt she remembered it from last year (since she was not quite 8 months old at the time). She may not even remember it this time next year, who knows.

The big difference of course is that this year the tree posed a potential danger to her — or maybe vice versa. My wife and I deliberately turned the “needles” on the lower branches so that our daughter wouldn’t accidentally spike herself in the eye while crawling/stooping under the tree to grab whatever toy she had chucked underneath. Of course we also avoided ornaments, lights, and garland on the bottom layer of branches as well.

All for nought. We underestimated our daughter’s ability to balance herself on tiptoe (first time I’ve seen her do it, in fact) in order to pull ornaments down. Thankfully, all the ornaments were plastic, although a few had that cheap-o sparkle stuff on them, a few even with the words “Merry Christmas” in tiny cursive silvery sparkle script.

But no metal hooks. No hooks at all, just string-loops. My daughter even figured out how to put the loops back on the branches, within a matter of minutes (from taking the ornaments off and flinging them about the living room).

Leaving Santa. What to do about Santa?

"Advent" with Santa and chocolate?

We actually bought what was advertised (in English) as an “Advent Calender.” It was a thin package, about the size of a US legal pad, with a giant picture of Santa, covered in numbered boxes just like an Advent calendar is supposed to look. But when I opened the number 1 window on December 1st, I found nothing but a tiny piece of chocolate in the shape of a stocking. Number 2 was a piece of chocolate shaped like a tree. Number 3, a sleigh.

Not only was the “calendar” not about Advent, it wasn’t even a calendar. And even had nothing to do with Santa. I heard from a fellow graduate school classmate that all “Advent calendars” in his family in Michigan had pieces of chocolate and no biblical passages behind the windows. Begs the purpose behind an “Advent calendar” in the first place, you ask me.

At any rate, even though I don’t consider myself all that religious, I wanted somehow to preserve the special feeling that Christmas had for me as a kid. At the very least I wanted to make sure that my family spend the whole day together. The problem is that in Japan, Christmas is just another day. It’s not an official holiday, and people have to go to work or school if it’s a weekday. (Actually, I had to ask my wife to postpone her tennis lesson, scheduled Christmas morning at 9 a.m., or else she would have gone out the door just like any other Saturday.)

In the end, I got presents for my wife and daughter, wrapped them, and put them under the tree on Christmas Eve (after my daughter went to bed so that she wouldn’t be tempted to rip into them). We also got a present for my daughter from mutual Japanese friends on December 23rd (the Emperor’s Birthday, a national holiday), but I couldn’t convince my friends and wife not to open the present immediately, despite being told it was a “Christmas present.” We wound up putting the present (an Elmo doll) back into its package, to be opened again by my daughter on Christmas morning.

And from others? Nothing. No Christmas presents from relatives in Japan. I wasn’t too surprised, given that Japan is not a Christian country and therefore Christmas is just not a big deal here. It was a little depressing, though, to have a Christmas tree with so few presents under it.

On the other hand, relatives in Japan have sent my daughter gifts at random times throughout the previous year. Basically, the sense is that they saw something appropriate, thought, “Gee, I bet so-and-so might like this,” and then sent it with no wrapping.

I suppose I can see the point. Why wait until one, specific day each year to send gifts to the people you love?

Still, Santa somehow found his way to our apartment Christmas Eve, making my daughter happy to see her new Disney “car” Christmas morning. All that was missing was a present for me. (Which I got later that afternoon. My wife had simply forgotten to get gifts. Oh, well. Talk about different holiday expectations!)

About MThomas

Long ago, I gave up my high school dreams of becoming the next Carl Sagan and instead wound up working (in order) at McDonald's, a '60s-themed restaurant, a video rental store, a used bookstore, a computer seller, Kinko's, a Jewish newspaper company, and an HR firm. I eventually became a teacher of intercultural communication in Kyoto, where I vainly attempt to apply quantum mechanics to language teaching, practice martial arts and Zen Buddhism, and always keep one eye on the sky. And yes, I know my profile photo's backward. I just think it looks better this way.
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