Oh, Christmas Tree!
Happy New Year!!!
Every country is different. Every one is different. Each and every person celebrates (of chooses not to) in a different way.
I have many childhood memories, as I'm sure you do too, of Christmas time. The excitement of going to church to sing Christmas songs, whilst at the same time writing a list to santa. Many a time I asked my mother questions about baby Jesus and why Mary rode a donkey and not a horse and why a star moved in the sky and why there were angels, shepherds, kings and animals all at Jesus's birth - I was after all a child with many questions.
But at the same time in our house we kept other traditions that were less religious. Such as the Christmas tree, lights, sweets in little plastic trays (including roses and quality streets among many), fake snow on the window (only once because of the mess it created), a stocking on our bedroom door handle (lets face it, the fireplace is not a safe place), oh and the advent calendars. These are just a few of the things we did.
My mother has pictures of me and my sister in our younger years dressing up in the Chritsmas tree decorations for a holiday snap shot - my mother would think it was so cute whilst my dad would be eating the sweets and often being told by my mother to stop eating them because they were for our guests.
One Christmas was spent at the hospital - we had been at a childrens Christmas party at our local pub when my father (drunk of course) said he saw santa getting into a taxi and was on his way to our house...he began running only to slip on some ice and break his arm. We were at the hospital until 4am! The nurses took pity on my sister and I and gave us a mini present from under the Christmas tree in the childrens ward - I dont remember what i got, i think it was a pack of crayons, i just remember my sister gettting a babies rattle (she was 9 years old).
As we got older my mother decorated less and less (although we still have plenty of decorations up, including the tinsel that is always wrapped around the staircase banister).
Even though I went to university I still made sure i made it home in time for Christmas - after all, Christmas is about family (and of course friends, giving and receiving, being merry, spreading cheer, and of course little baby Jesus). But my first ever Christmas away from home was when i was 22 years old - I spent it in America with my American friend and her family. It was my first time experiencing another cultures traditions.
Her family was a lot more religious than mine and went to church every Sunday etc. So Christmas was no exception. For my family it had been a long time since we had been to church so it was a refreshing experience to be amongst a crowd of people singing Christmas songs and to stand in front of the church with lit candles looking down from the hill top to the city below.
We also had a white Christmas that year. She also invited ALL her family and some friends round and they experienced british 'pigs in blankets' (sausages wrapped in bacon - the american version is sausages wrapped in pancakes). They also had a very big REAL Christmas tree (we have only had a real one once, but it made too much of a mess...we used to have a large fake tree but my mum said it was too big). We made cookies together as a family (she has 2 younger daughter) and we visited many people.
The following year my mother suggested something different - A winter sun Christmas!
We went to Tenerife for Christmas - we had been there once before when i was 7 years old but it had changed so much. We stayed in a newly developed part that was only reachable by car or bus - it was ok but it just didnt feel like Christmas...even though santa did coming running around the pool area to gather the children. Also sweating whilst sitting in the sun and opening presents isnt as much fun as sitting in a warm house by a Christmas tree with music playing and your dog waiting for the wrapping paper to rip into smaller pieces.
So for me, Christmas is suppose to be in winter, when its cold - and here in Japan, in Miyako, it gets cold!
Currently the temperature drops to about -5 at night. We are on the east coast so it doesnt get as cold or as much snow as the inland BUT the wind can get so very cold.
The houses here are also designed more for summer rather than winter... I have seen the construction of my house and they used very little insulation... last year i was in an old house - the shower would freeze, the pipes would freeze, the condensation on the windows would freeze...the cheapest way to stay warm was to use a kerosene heater whereby you had to ventilate every 3 hours because of the fumes that would build up - Electricity is expensive... even the metal prefilled oil heaters we have in england that you can buy for £30 are expensive here (the cheapest ive seen for a generic brand was £70).
Luckily i now live in a brand new apartment - the heat stays in longer BUT we are not allowed the kerosene heaters...so the electric bill is so high - hence why i enjoy spending time at 24hrs Mcdonald or Mr Donuts with free refills for coffee.
Last year was my first Christmas here - all my foreign friends decided to go home that year. So i was bored - i bought video games to play, watched movies and went shopping (a lot) - i hadnt really got to know many locals and my city is small and a 2 hour drive through the mountains to the next city (the mountains get a lot of snow so i wasnt really prepared to go any where) - granted i could have planned a trip but i just wanted to relax.
Christmas day was the best though - at midnight i called my family to wish them Merry Christmas... At 9am (midnight UK) they called me to wish me Merry Christmas... i then opened presents and went to KFC to buy a roast chicken leg and chips (french fries) and had a KFC christmas lunch followed by a chocolate cake while they were sleeping.
By 4pm (7am UK) i decided to give my family a wake up call so they could open presents - from then until midnight (my time) I spent the whole time on skype talking to my family as they prepared lunch, opened gifts, put the hat on my dog that i bought him...the laptop was placed at the end of the table so I could joined them for xmas dinner - albeit i was having xmas supper by this time.
This year in my new apartment i decorated the place with some simple decorations from Daiso (japans pound shop) - my tree was 500yen! (thats about £3.50 and is 3' tall). My parents sent me a big box of presents for me and my friends (my family came in summer so wanted to give the people they met a little something) - a word of warning, when sending things to japan its best to ship in small boxes and keep the cost of items under £70 otherwise you pay tax.
I have also been invited to a friends christmas party at a restuarant, which is the same night that ive been invited to my tennis club karaoke christmas party. I'm also going to a music party for the tsunami relief support on christmas eve. Christmas day will be similar to last year. Another japanese friend is going to have either a christmas party or new years party and will let me know...and on boxing day im teaching a private group english class (christmas day and boxing day are not a national holiday - instead you should note that new years is a national holiday but many banks, ATMs and stores are closed over new years for about 4 days...so buy food and withdraw money that you need)
More or less my Christmas this year is a little fuller - We have already had some get togethers because again my foreign friends are going home for christmas... but i still have video games, movies and other things to fill in the gaps... so this year i wont be as bored.
So, How will you spend your Christmas this year?
For anyone who is traveling - be safe!... if you are in cold countries be extra safe because of the weather. Give plenty of time to travel or delays due to snow, traffic or train schedule changes. Have extra money just in case... and dont forget to call home to wish a merry christmas.
So from here in Japan
Happy New Year!!!