From the moment I applied to the JET Programme, I knew that spending a Christmas away from home would be incredibly hard. Christmas is by far my favourite holiday. Usually, I wake up with my family at a stupidly early hour of the morning (what? I can’t help it! Santa has visited my house and brought presents and you expect me to sleep in?!). We spend several hours opening gifts together while sitting in front of the fireplace with Christmas music on in the background. Once all of the presents have been opened, we’ll entertain ourselves with our gifts while Mom starts the turkey and Jiggs dinner. The rest of the day will be spent with family – Nan usually joins us for dinner, then we’ll do a gift exchange with Mom’s side of the family, and then we round off the day with a gift exchange with Dad’s side of the family.
It’s my all-time favourite day of the year.
I feel like it’s especially hard having my first Christmas away from home in a country like Japan. Only ~1% of the Japanese population is Christian, and thus they don’t celebrate Christmas here like they do in Newfoundland. First, it isn’t a holiday – if I wasn’t taking one of my annual leave days, I would be working on Christmas Day. (Fortunately, my school is very kind and they let me take the day off.) Instead of being a time for family and friends, Christmas is more romantic, with Christmas Eve being a very popular “date night.” Gifts are exchanged between boyfriends and girlfriends, and sometimes close family and friends. Santa does visit the houses of the children who believe in him, but not to the extent that he does in Newfoundland. As well, the Japanese celebrate Christmas with Kentucky Fried Chicken (you should see the Colonel statues dressed up in a Santa suit) and a Christmas cake (for which I’ve seen bakeries in my city charge 4000yen (~$40) and up!) instead of the Jiggs and turkey that I’m used to.
Take today, for example. It’s Christmas Eve. I am at school. There are no decorations in the teacher’s room, besides the Santa hat that I have laid over the top of my computer. No one is exchanging presents or cards. No one (besides me) is wishing anyone a Merry Christmas. It’s so… strange. And it definitely does NOT feel like Christmas.
I’m making the best of it – I bought a fair-sized Christmas tree (an anomaly in Japan, especially in an apartment my size!) and I decorated my apartment with decorations from the 100yen store. I’ve received some Christmas cards from friends back home and I’ve hung them in my apartment. As well, my family has been amazing – I was surprised with two large boxes of presents, as well as the fixings for me to make my own Jiggs dinner. I’ll have a nice Christmas potluck dinner with some of the other city ALTs on Christmas Day. Tonight, I’ll still track Santa, and I’ll still leave him milk and cookies…
But while I’ll be making the best of it, my heart will definitely be back home with my family in Newfoundland.
Merry Christmas, everyone! I hope you all have a wonderful holiday, wherever you may be. <3