Anime Blogmas — Christmas In Japan And Anime: A Second Valentine’s Day
When you grow up in the Western Christian world, Christmas is one of the most important days of the year. It’s such a big part of our lives that we can forget that other countries do not celebrate it in the same way. Some countries do not celebrate it at all! Can you imagine that? A year without Christmas?
If you watch anime, then you probably know that Japan does celebrate Christmas. But it’s quite different from what you’re used to at home, isn’t it?
In this post, we’re going to have a look at Japanese Christmas traditions and how they appear in some of our favorite anime.
Not a holiday at all
This might sound crazy, but Christmas Day is not actually a holiday in Japan. Luckily, most schools don’t have classes during that day. December 23rd is the Emperor’s birthday, which, of course, is a national holiday. Soon after that, schools have the New Year break. Because of that, most schools choose to start the holiday break on the 23rd and Christmas is safe.
But other businesses consider the 25th a normal working day. That means most adults have to go to work on Christmas Day. Maybe because of that, Christmas Eve is much more celebrated in Japan.
The most romantic day in the year
As we already know, Japan is not a very Christian country. With only 1% of the population believing in Jesus, it’s easy to understand why Christmas doesn’t have a religious meaning for most people there. The holiday has only been widely celebrated there for a few decades now. It got to Japan as a commercial event, not a religious one. Yay, capitalism!
Because of that, Christmas traditions in Japan are very different from what we’re used to seeing on our side of the world. Forget that about going to church, praying and singing Christmas songs. Spending time with family? Exchanging gifts? Save that for New Year’s Eve, a much more important day for the Japanese families.
In Japan, Christmas Eve is a day for couples. For them, December 24th is like a second Valentine’s Day. It’s a day for you to spend with your significant other. Have a fancy dinner, and then go for a romantic stroll to see the beautiful Christmas lights around town. Don’t forget to buy them a nice present! They’re the only person you’re going to be gifting now anyways.
In fact, Christmas is much more romantic than Valentine’s Day itself. As anime fans know well, February 14th is essentially a day for love confessions to be made. It’s not necessarily a day for you to spend with the person you love. It’s a day to show love, but not to be together. Also, because only girls are expected to give chocolate on that day, it ends up being a bit too one-sided. Christmas, on the other hand, is all about the couple celebrating their time together.
Chicken and cake
When you were a child, your favorite thing about Christmas was probably opening the presents. But after you grew up, you’re likely to have changed your mind a bit. Most people’s favorite thing about Christmas is the food.
I bet you can see it in your mind right now. All that food on your grandma’s table. The turkey. The ham. The KFC fried chicken… Wait, what?
Yep. Believe it or not, fried chicken is the traditional Christmas meal in Japan. Forget about turkey and ham. Since the 1970s, KFC is one of the favorite destinations for Japanese people on Christmas Eve. The franchise is so popular during that time that it’s common for people to preorder weeks ahead to guarantee their buckets of fried chicken.
But that’s Western food, right? The typically Japanese Christmas food is what they call the Christmas Cake. It is a sponge cake covered with whipped cream, and decorated and filled with strawberries. People say it is much less sweet than most cakes but still delicious! You have probably already seen it in anime and wished you could eat it. I know I have.
Yes, it was also on your phone’s keyboard. Remember the cake emoji?
A gift to the eyes
As I said above, only couples exchange gifts on Christmas. You’re not expected to gift your family or friends, not even the children. That would be considered weird.
But the Japanese Christmas still offers everyone a different gift — a delight to the eyes. Although they don’t give them the same meaning as we do, the Japanese take Christmas lights seriously. Their decoration is one of the most beautiful in the world.
“Merry Christmas” in Japanese
In the past few years, we have been replacing the traditional “Merry Christmas!” saying for the more politically correct “Happy Holidays!” That’s a way of showing respect for people like the Jewish, who don’t celebrate Christmas but have their own celebration, the Hanukkah.
But in Japan, where Christmas doesn’t have a religious meaning anyway, that’s not as important. So Japanese people will say “Merry Christmas!” — or “Meri Kurisumasu!” (メリークリスマス!).
And that’s what you should tell them, too.
The true meaning of Christmas
In the eyes of an American, the Japanese Christmas may seem a bit insincere. We’ve all grown up watching Hollywood movies about the “true meaning” of Christmas. Isn’t it insensitive to celebrate a holiday without an understanding of its sacred origins?
We need to remember that even in the Christian world, many people do not think of Christmas as a religious date. It’s necessary to admit that even for us, the holiday has been taken over by capitalism. For many people, it’s an opportunity to make business. For others, it’s just an excuse to give and receive gifts.
Besides that, let’s take a moment to think of the said “true meaning” of Christmas. If you consider that the spirit of Christmas is the spirit of giving, then Japanese people might be far superior us.
For them, it’s not about giving each other material goods. It’s about giving company. Enjoying the company of those dearest to you is the true meaning of the Japanese Christmas. In a sense, you are gifting yourself — your love and friendship — to others.
I don’t know about you, but to me, that sounds like a great way of celebrating Christmas.
Christmas traditions in anime
Let’s take a look at how a few of our favorite anime portray the Japanese Christmas traditions.
In this episode of Sword Art Online, we get to see a glimpse of the traditional Christmas markets. They are a type of fair where you can buy everything Christmas-related, from fancy tree decorations to candy cane. They’re very popular there and are a fun destination for tourists and locals alike.
In the Christmas episode of Card Captor Sakura, she gives Yukito a hand-made present. This is very common in Japan. Because the idea is to show the profundity of your feelings, many people choose to make presents, instead of buying them in shops.
Another thing to observe is that you should open your presents carefully. No tearing apart the paper wrappings! That would be considered disrespectful and inconsiderate of the giver’s feelings.
In one of the most heartbreaking anime episodes I’ve ever seen, we see Otani leaving Risa alone to go out with his girlfriend on Christmas Eve. This is how Lovely Complex shows us how the Japanese people consider it a holiday for couples. Being only a best friend, Risa has to spend the cold Christmas night alone amongst the lights. For us Westerners, that looks like a terribly sad scenario.
While I was watching Toradora! last month, I thought it was really weird that their school was having a dance on Christmas Eve. It was only after Taiga revealed her plans to get Ryuuji and Kushieda together that I remembered. Christmas is less about spending time with family and more about being with your significant other or your close friends. So a ball makes perfect sense.
The world of anime is full of Christmas specials. If you are looking for one to watch, I recommend you check out this video where WatchMojo shows us their Top 10 Best Anime Christmas Episodes:
Did you know Christmas in Japan was this different? What’s your favorite Christmas tradition? Please share your thoughts with us in the comments below!
Happy Holidays, everyone! ^^