Sunday, December 20, 2020

Celebrating Christmas in Japan

 -- Susan, every other Sunday

Westerners, and Americans in particular, are often surprised to learn that many Japanese people love  Christmas--even though less than 1% of the country identifies as Christian.

Here, Christmas is celebrated as a secular holiday, focusing primarily on food, giving gifts, and spectacular displays of lights and decorations--which, if you think about it, pretty much explains precisely why Japan embraced this particular holiday with open arms.

Gifts, food and decorations--especially gifts that are food (or decorations)--are deeply-rooted elements of Japanese culture. Given the additional fact that Japanese culture takes "any excuse for a party" to nearly unimaginable levels, and the fact that the holiday is viewed in an entirely secular light (i.e., nobody thinks a Christmas display is an evangelical act, because the people who put them up, for the most part, are not even Christians, so people pretty much just see the decorations as "holiday fun") Christmas and Japan are a natural fit.

But like everything else, Japan doesn't do Christmas quite like anyone else does.

So here's a glimpse of Christmas . . . the Japanese way:

Wreath in the doorway of a building in Ginza.
Wreaths are everywhere this time of year--the bigger and more elaborate, the better.

His bling says "Merry Christma" - close enough.

Five-story color-changing Christmas tree. With Swarovski dangling "snow."

Another take on the Christmas tree: this one composed entirely of live flowers.

Bavarian Christmas markets are hugely popular in Tokyo.
Most sell "traditional Bavarian Christmas food" like . . . curry fries. 

Santa is very popular - and Santa comes in all ages, shapes and sizes.

Nativity scenes are also surprisingly popular, especially considering that, for most Japanese people, Christmas is entirely secular.

Yet another totally traditional Bavarian Christmas snack hut, complete with Santa and the Easter Bunny. 

Snowmen and Teddy Bear Santa love traditional Bavarian curry fries and paella.
(Not joking. They're on the menu. Right next to the bratwurst.)

Another Christmas tree - this one, composed entirely of ornaments.

Christmas is also time for some of the cutest pastries and desserts we see all year.

Not sure what these figures have to do with Christmas, but . . . LIGHTS!

Glowing stars at one of the many Tokyo Winter Illuminations (not all of which are Christmas themed)

Giant Bavarian Whirligig at the Christmas Market in Hibiya Park

Tokyo's Christmas markets typically open between December 10 and December 15, and vanish literally overnight after closing on December 25. From the 26th onward, everyone is busy preparing for Ōshogatsu ( お正月 ), New Year's Day--which in Japan is celebrated on January 1.

Oshogatsu, the First Sunrise on January 1, and the first shrine visit of the New Year (known as Hatsumode - 初詣) are major holidays and traditions in Japan, and taken far more seriously than Christmas. However, everyone loves the holiday cheer, and Christmas is an excellent way to spend the last month of the old year before welcoming in the new.

Wherever you are, and whatever you celebrate (or don't), I hope your 2020 ends in peace, joy, and light, and that your 2021 is happy, healthy, and bright. 


  1. I was once in Sapporo for Christmas and New Year - a memorable time, topped with fine skiing. Thanks for awakening the memories. All of the best over the holidays - enjoy lots of those Japanese edible decorations. Cheers, Stan

    1. Thank you!! And I will! Much love and holiday joy to you and yours as well.

  2. With every post I'm more impressed by the culture of your adopted homeland. AND I admit to lusting after the snowman pastry. Happy Holidays, Susan!