Well, a belated Merry Christmas to all! I've finally finished work, and am now starting the designated New Year's holiday. It usually runs from a day or two after Christmas, until the 4th of January. Unfortunately, our company doesn't give us Christmas Day off, so on that special day, while you all were opening presents, I was teaching. Our benevolent masters were kind enough to give us early shifts, so we got off about 6 or 6:30, but it wasn't that great.
On the upside, a few of us got together and had an honest-to-goodness Christmas dinner, complete with a few chickens (small game hens, really), and various side dishes. I tried my hand at egg nog, and I presume it was a success, since nobody got food poisoning. That's how you can tell if a meal's a success: if no one dies. At least by my book.
It's rather surprising that Japan celebrates Christmas, it being a non-Christian country and all that. During the closed period, from about 1580 until the Meiji Restoration of the 1860s, Christianity was outlawed, and renegade Christians were mercilessly tortured. You think the Romans were bad? Check out what the Japanese would do. There's a really thought-provoking book called Silence written by a Japanese Catholic named Shusaku Endo. It's a fictionalized account of real occurrances.
But nowadays, Christmas is pretty similar to the USA, except that there's really no religion in it. It's just a commercialized mess, a reason for parents to buy their kids toys, and for couples to buy each other jewelry. Around town, there were tons of Christmas lights, and I even saw a house or two with Santa's sleigh and 8 reindeer made of lights. It's not bad, per se, but there's no real religious significance to it. Not that there's anything wrong with that. We have a Christmas tree and wreaths and holly and Santa that all came from pagan, decidedly not Christian roots.
So they sort of celebrate Christmas as more of a holiday to have a party than anything else. New Year's is coming up, and that's really the time to celebrate and have fun. But first, it's time for an extremely thorough housecleaning. Usually the lady of the house enlists any other females, if there are any, and they clean like nothing else. The department stores are having sales on everything related to that: lightbulbs, tatami mats for the floors, and every sort of cleaning product imaginable. Usually people will have a party or dinner, or stay up really late and watch the sunrise. Then the next 4 days are for going to the local shrine or temple and saying prayers for a good new year. 2005 is the year of the rooster (or chicken, depending on who you ask), so all over the place, products bearing a rooster or chicken are for sale. One of the major alcohol brands is offering I think a premium whiskey in a chicken-shaped bottle.
So yoiotoshio everyone! Meri Kurisumasu and Happy New Year!!