Tuesday, January 02, 2007
This is a picture of a typical Japanese Christmas cake. Ours looked a lot like this -- even the pink Santa! These cakes are VERY small and VERY pricey -- about $50 for this one that was maybe 6" across!
Just celebrated our first Christmas in Japan. Granted, I had lived here six years before, but didn’t spend many Christmases here and when I did, it was with other Americans. This year we were invited to a party at the Shimizu’s home. Ayano is Bonnie’s best friend and since her mom watches Bonnie three days a week while I work, Bonnie is like family. It had some of the trappings of an American Christmas, but was just a little bit – off. How many of the following surprise you?
When: The main event is Christmas Eve. In fact, by December 25th Christmas food and decorations are drastically discounted at the stores.
Where: Homes vs. church. The churches that had a candlelight service had them on the 22nd or 23rd (Friday or Saturday this year). On Christmas Eve, a Sunday, when you would fully expect a church service to be held – nothing.
Who: Christmas is not about family – that is New Year’s day. Christmas Eve is a time to have a romantic evening with your boyfriend or girlfriend! Christmas Day is a workday like any other. Fortunately, we got the day off (my first holiday since I got here in June), but had to make up the classes we missed. So . . . was it really a holiday?
What: Not surprising that Christmas is about presents and Santa, rather than Jesus. We have the same problem even in the U.S., but what surprised me is that it’s all about GETTING rather than giving. At Ayano’s party, the night was all about the kids – felt like a birthday. And the presents! Keep in mind that these are people Bonnie barely knew (Ayano’s uncles and aunts). She got a gorgeous pink confection of a princess dress with battery-operated lights embedded in it; a grocery store set for her Licca (Japanese Barbie) doll with food, shopping cart, shelves, check-out counter, etc.; a kind of sewing machine that makes beaded necklaces; a very expensive make-up kit; and a drawing set. I saw all these things at Toys R Us and each cost nearly $50. We had gotten Ayano a bathrobe, pajamas and slippers from the Disney Store online and had them all personalized with her name in English, but it was quite obvious that I should have gotten her a toy.
How: Shortly after we got to the party, people started bringing out these huge gifts for the girls, who tore them all open in less than five minutes. No time to admire what they got, not time to say thank you, no time to even pretend you liked it – just on to the next present. Then we had Christmas cake and ice cream. Turn off the lights, blow out the candles, eat. There were no gifts for the grownups at all. The kids did no GIVING but all receiving. And Bonnie was the only one who said thank you for anything!
Despite these differences, it was a lot of fun. We played Bingo and ate a lot of good food. Bonnie even won me a coffee maker and a set of chopsticks. We came home after midnight and opened our presents to each other. Although I had spent nearly $200 on her Christmas presents (thanks to a generous gift from America), they paled in comparison to what she had just received at the party. I tried not to, but felt a little bad. When I was growing up, my best presents were always from my mom. No one else even came close. And up ‘til now the same was true for Bonnie. Still, she seemed fine with it all and when it came time to play with all her new Christmas stuff, the tea set I had gotten her was the first thing she took out and set up, so maybe old mom did OK after all. LOL!
Bonnie tumbled into bed after midnight and I waited until 2 a.m. for her to fall asleep so I could put some stuff in her stocking from Santa. We were expecting company Christmas morning at 10 so I set the alarm for 9:45. We jumped out of bed and took off in our pajamas to pick up our friend Carla who lives about 5 minutes away. She doesn’t have a car so I told her I’d pick her up. She brought LOTS of presents and a potato casserole. After opening up the tons of stuff she got us (including a beautiful lacquer Japanese jewelry box – a gift from her Sunday School class to me!) Wayne (the other teacher at our school) and his mom (visiting him from the U.S.) arrived. More presents. More food. Grownups sitting around the table, drinking coffee, listening to Christmas carols downloaded to my laptop. Bonnie sitting on the floor in the midst of a heap of torn paper, ribbons, overflowing plastic bags of discarded wrappings and pieces of cardboard boxes that held Barbie dolls with new scarves, clothing and socks scattered around her. For a few hours I forgot that I was in Japan. I forgot my troubles at work, money woes, worries about the future. It was Christmas morning. All was well.