Dear AsKA Mom/Mum,
With the holiday season starting up in my Western culture (Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s), I’m feeling a bit depressed that I’m not celebrating with family back “home.” What traditions do people hold onto here in Japan, or does everyone just take on new traditions? How can I get through the holidays?
Dear Feeling Blue,
Ah yes, holiday season is always a tough time to be away from family, and when you’re living in a culture that celebrates different holidays than what you grew up with, it can be especially difficult. THAT part may never change, but if you’re willing to be proactive and creative, you can turn your blues into holiday cheer. So, here are a few stories and suggestions from our mothers on how we have learned to do it.
Erinn says that she definitely celebrates Christmas. She usually sets the first weekend in December as decorating weekend:
We pull out the tree and other pieces, and work on setting it all up. Often the kids will take time out of their schedule to help get it started and it’s become a part of our family tradition, one evening with Christmas music and putting up the tree. We love it. The rest of the month is mostly building up a small stack of presents under the tree, and I purchase stocking stuffers and add them to the stockings throughout the month. On Christmas Eve we usually open one present each, and the kids often sleep in the living room to try and catch Santa in the act! Christmas morning starts with the kids opening their stockings on their own, then once mom and dad come downstairs, we open all the presents. We don’t always get to have our dinner on Christmas day itself since Japan doesn’t recognize it as a holiday so some people in the house may have to work, but we usually do some sort of dinner as close to the date as we can. Our dinner often involves any visiting friends, relatives or neighbors who want to join, and we usually get a turkey from Costco, make pumpkin pie and other simple things.
M.K. says that in her family, everything is celebrated:
My husband is very supportive and into it and sometimes it feels like he’s also been doing it his entire life. We have the help from Ikea since I’m Swedish and we combine Easter with Hanabi sometimes! When it’s a Swedish holiday our entire house is Swedish. I have the Swedish shows ready so they run on TV, Swedish music and it’s like a Swedish little haven here, haha. Our guests are usually also always Swedish so it’s easy to get the right feeling!
She adds that when they move closer to her in-laws she’ll add them into the Christmas festivites and try to make it a truly family celebration.
I have collected roast ovens, toaster ovens, and the like over the years and every year my hubby and I have hosted an American Thanksgiving on that Thursday. It has always worked out that we’ve had at least 1/2 the day off to do it, and we’ve crammed 30 people into our little house. Yes, you can do a whole turkey meal…it takes a lot of planning and prep to get the turkey, stuffing, pies, mashed potatoes, casseroles, rolls, etc. done in 1 big roaster and 2 toaster ovens, but it CAN be done! Then our guests bring something to share that reminds them of “home,” which Japanese friends find fun to try. Impossible to sit down at the table together, but we cram wherever we can. Only thing missing is football, but we make do with Premier League soccer…its sports, right?
It has taken several years to get it right, but the weekend before Xmas, we invite MIL and SIL over, and we do a Xmas celebration MY WAY, complete with the turkey and mashed potatoes. I make it really clear that they are not to bring anything to the dinner because I will make everything. After dinner, we exchange presents between us and the kids. On Xmas Eve and Day, I just celebrate with my husband and kids. For New Years, I have taken on the Japanese traditions that my husband and his family enjoy. I let them take the lead on that as long as I can have my Xmas. For Thanksgiving, I feel like they never really got it, so I usually try to celebrate with foreign friends. Usually, we host a Thanksgiving dinner at my house, and everyone contributes something to the dinner. For Halloween, I try to get the kids out to one or two parties in the area, either hosted by foreign friends or groups that I belong to, or we attend a department store Halloween event. The latter never satisfies me completely, but it does satisfy my kids to no end.
We always host a Spring/Easter/Welcome BBQ at the Aichi Farm. With all the lovely baby farm animals and a great BBQ plus Easter games, it’s a nice way to start the school year for us. I don’t worry about Australia Day so much unless friends are getting together. If we do it’s always full of Aussie food and fun. Halloween for the kids even though it’s not celebrated so much in Oz. Christmas is a nice lunch at the Hilton with our friends and gift exchange. Then to Hakuba for New Year Skiing. I’m looking forward to a break.
I love Halloween and Christmas at home. Halloween is do-able here, but Christmas was falling short. That is until last year when another KA Mom brought Christmas to me. I actually cried when she turned up on Christmas day with turkey and lots of delicious Xmas food. Paddy’s Day is another important one for me, I gather with Irish friends in Omote Sando each year for the St Patrick’s Day parade there. Thanks to wonderful friends and a supportive husband we are now able to celebrate each of my “holidays” in our own way.
Halloween is not a holiday I always celebrated but I like the fun, especially for the kids. It is my mom’s birthday too so I made a Halloween/birthday cake for her (it is a pumpkin, I know it is hard to see 🙂 I am not good at this).
I love love love Christmas, I always try to celebrate and prepare special dishes, listen to carols, go to church, I hope my son will grow to love it too. being away from family is tough and My husband doesn’t really get the holidays (he tries to be supportive though), which makes it all oven more depressing. As a whole, it is beautiful to celebrate the birth of Jesus and be grateful, no matter where we are and what we do. And I do enjoy the early Christmas preparations- decorating, choosing postcards/making cards, sending them, events, etc. love is all around!
So, remember, the holidays are what you make of them, and while they may not be celebrated exactly as you remember when you were a small child, M.N. notes (and E.L.M. concurs) that the great part about celebrating in Japan is that you can do the holidays the way you want to without pressure. You can even move the dates around, if work and school schedules get in the way. So picture how you want to celebrate your holidays, and make it happen!
Erinn LaMattery: workaholic SAHM with a possible touch of ADD. Favorite question: Free time? What's that?? Days are spent: raising 4 children, teaching part time, developing a jewelry business (http://facebook.com/offonawhim), and following the lives of the KA Moms! Cooking, cleaning and shopping are all secondary.
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