Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Holidays....and tradition.

Back and reasonably un-jetlagged. I did not appreciate waking up at 6am , however, unable to go back to sleep. The JAL flight was pretty uncrowded thanks to the Honolulu Marathon, which meant I had the rare priveledge of having a a 3 seat row all to my self. And JAL stewardessess don't snarl at you when you keep asking for 12 ounce sleeping pills! Taking a day off today to recage my brain and gear up for the upcoming challenges this month. Besides I'm owed a day off after dealing with idiots all the past week! I have zero Christmas shopping done, especially for my son and daughter, so I have got to get on the ball!

Ever since I came to Japan, the December holidays has been really weird for me. Generally it becomes too expensive to fly back to the states, given that as New Years approaches the air fares zoom. Part of THAT is fueled by the fact that Japan takes the first four days of the year off. Before I met the S.O. it was a time of prowling around Roppongi and other less reputable places looking for Miss Right (for tonight!). My first New Years here I spent new years day sleeping off new year's eve. Thank God it was the one day of the year the trains ran all night. Since meeting the S.O. we usually exchange gifts on Christmas, have dinner together and New Years....well we've just agreed to disagree about how to spend that. She favors quiet and reflection and I favor dressing up, Auld Lang Zyne, and boozy kisses at midnight. Suffice it to say she gets her way more than I get mine.

Which got me to think of how the holidays are celebrated around the world. Without meaning to, Christmas has become a holiday celebrated even in countries without a Christian tradition. Probably there are some who might argue this, but the fact that there are Christmas decorations in Shanghai at least proves one part of my theory:

Retailers will jump on anything that makes profit!

Now when I was growing up, we had a relatively "normal" American Christmas. I use the word normal sparingly because in our family, family type gatherings always had an underlying layer of tension. That applied both when I was teenager and then subsequently when I was married to the ex. However we followed a formula. Christmas Eve was a ham dinner, usually followed by a trip to church. Christmas day was opening presents in the morning, eating as little as possible until the Turkey Dinner was served. My mom never varied her menu: Turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, scalloped oysters, pea and asparagus casserole, bread, wine, and milk for us underagers.

New Years had its own ritual too-New Years eve would find me scheming to get to a new years party, and after I had children, not being able to do that much. New Years day was a set menu: Pork Roast, Potatoes, Blackeyed Peas with what my father called Hog Jowls. (Pork Loin with fat.) The theory was the more Blackeyed peas you ate the more money you would see come your way the following year. The Hog Jowls were for luck. This meal was usually followed by copious amounts of college football on TV.

Now in Japan, the Christmas and New Years holiday are just the opposite. For a young 20 something single person, being with out a date on Christmas eve is the low point of the year. As was described in the Tokyo Classifieds a few years ago:

On Christmas Eve, trains will be packed to shame any weekday morning. Every single road on the map will be fender-to-fender. Cell phone lines will cease to function, due to an overload of calls being made by couples trying to find each other in packed train stations. Oh, and don't even bother trying to find a hotel room. Yes, Christmas Eve in this country frightens me to the very core.

For those of you who have just arrived in Japan, Christmas here has been turned into some kind of second Valentine's Day. Spending Christmas Eve alone is the most degrading thing in the world for a young person in Japan. Apparently, the correct way to spend Christmas is to go out to an overpriced restaurant (usually of the French or Italian variety) with a member of the opposite sex, and then, after a few minor detours and an exchange of overpriced gifts, to end up in an overpriced hotel room with a view and share more than just presents.

And there is, of course, the little detail of of the Christmas Cake:

I observe with a blend of amusement and disbelief the distinctly Japanese (commercial sector-generated) custom of combining strawberry shortcake (don't forget to light the birthday candles and blow them out while making a wish) and Kentucky Fried Chicken (make sure you reserve it well in advance, or you might have to stand in line for two hours to get the 12-piece party pack) on the Christmas dinner menu.

Arguably there are worse ways to spend the holiday, but as an American it is different from what I was used to before I came.

New Years on the other hand is very much family time. There are New Years parties, especially in Gaijin heavy areas but on the whole they are not the norm. People go to see their families, pray at the Shrine on New Years day and eat the food that mom has either prepared in advance or purchased at higher than normal prices. Its called Osechi Ryori-quite good actually.

Now Sourrain lives in Leeds and I know little of English Christmas tradition. I have been in England during December , up in Linclonshire, and saw in all the pubs flyers for making reservations for Christmas dinner. I'm not sure how popular and pervasive that tradition is. And I have no idea what Boxing Day is all about.

I spent New Years in Naples once. I paid some ungodly amount of lire to attend a New Years party at the AFSOUTH (NATO) officer's club in Pazzuoli. Good time, but different than I expected. It was mostly couples there which limited oppotunites for yours truly. The ticket price covered all the booze though. The real point of the story was, in Naples on New Years eve get off the streets around midnight. Evidently, it was a Neapolitan tradition to throw old things out on the street at the stroke of the new year. I'm told that can include things such as washing machines. Not sure if that is true, but it sure did get noisy when midnight came and went. Lots of fireworks and sounds of metal on concrete!

So what say you? Any other interesting holiday traditions that are worth passing?

cross posted at Exordinarily Ordinary.


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