What do people do at Christmastime in a country, like Japan, with no Catholic or Christian tradition? Well, we also celebrate Christmas, but in our own way. Businesses kick off their Christmas campaigns well before the holidays, and the most celebrated time in Japan is actually Christmas Eve, rather than Christmas Day itself. In fact, 25 December is not a bank holiday.
There are two dishes which typically adorn the Christmas Eve spread: roasted chicken and the Christmas cake known as Kurisumasu kêki (クリスマスケーキ). While some people prepare the chicken at home, most order it or buy it from stores that sell ready-made meals or from 24-hour supermarkets, among other places. There is one brand of ready-made meals in particular that is a fan favourite among Japanese diners.
The most common Christmas cake is made with strawberries and cream and features both a Father Christmas figurine and a sheet of chocolate spelling out the words “Merry Christmas”. Father Christmas, whom the Japanese refer to as Santa Kurôsu (サンタクロース) pays a visit to many families with children; while they sleep, he leaves presents for them near the headboard of their bed or futon.
Christmas Eve is also a romantic evening for couples to spend together. According to “Nihongata Kurisumasu no rekishi” ([Christmas in Japan], News Commentators Bureau, NHK) this trend become widespread between 1983 and 1987. The bountiful financial prosperity of the time compelled young people to spend excessive amounts of money at shops and restaurants. Although they don’t spend so much money any more, couples still enjoy celebrating this time together.
The New Year is celebrated with the family, however. On the first three days of January, called Shôgatsu sanganichi (正月三が日), government offices and many businesses close down. Accordingly, many people take advantage of the time off to visit their families and spend the first days of the year with their loved ones.