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If you travel halfway around the world to Japan at Christmastime, you may find that things are celebrated a little differently. Christmas is not an Asian tradition, and isn’t observed as a national holiday either. Still, some things remain the same.

Christmas lights and other typical decorations such as reindeer, Christmas trees and Santa Clauses deck the halls of local Japanese shopping malls and homes. Twinkling lights are strung throughout large city districts, and are known as “luminario.” Within the last five years, many residential areas have begun to compete for the best decorated home. Christmas trees also are popular, especially in homes with small children.

People generally don’t prepare meals for Christmas, but buy them instead. Most people in Japan have mainly Western cuisine, but they also serve traditional Japanese dishes like sushi. While some have turkey (although turkey and other meat dishes are expensive), the more common and popular dishes include decorated Christmas cakes, Kentucky Fried Chicken, McDonald’s fast food, and French or Italian fare. Champagne is trendy at Christmas parties.
Japan is a gift-giving society, and shopping malls go all out to encourage spending during the festive season. Many people exchange gifts at parties, and parents buy their children presents. The story behind Santa Claus isn’t well known, but many children believe that he is the source of presents. The Japanese view the Christmas season as a romantic time of year, and many couples exchange yuletide nuptials.  

Since Christmas is not a national holiday, churches hold services on the closest Sunday to Christmas, or on December 23, as this date represents the Emperor’s birthday and a public holiday. These Christmas services are typically candlelit and often include special outreach efforts, like concerts.
Those who don’t know the story behind Christmas still celebrate for tradition’s sake, as people all over the world do. Some even go to Christmas church services just to get into the Christmas spirit. There is much revelry, eating and drinking, and people inevitably end up getting drunk. Sadly, suicide rates tend to rise during the Christmas season. And while most Japanese do celebrate Christmas, some are too busy with their careers to bother, and others simply view it as a Western holiday.

If you would like to help spread the real reason for the season to Japan, please click here to give toward TWR’s Japanese Youth Ministry Project.