Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Won't Miss #506 - vanishing Christmas decorations

Last night, my husband and I were walking around a street (in California) that is known for putting up elaborate Christmas displays. When we were finished looking at the beautiful displays in front of people's homes, I remarked to my husband that I was looking forward to the holiday displays living beyond the 25th. In Tokyo, every little sign of Christmas tended to vanish by midnight on December 25th. In the U.S., at least in the past, such things tended to live on until New Year's (sometimes beyond). The way in which such things instantly disappeared in Tokyo always made me a little depressed. The holiday feeling felt as it it was washed away the minute it had lived its commercial course. Note that this was not the case with New Year's decorations. They tended to hang around for quite some time, as would be expected for a holiday that the Japanese themselves had an emotional investment in as their biggest celebration. I certainly don't "blame" them for that at all, but it did make me sad.

The way in which all vestiges of the holiday vanished by daybreak on the December 26 underscored how unimportant the holiday was for the Japanese and reminded me of my cultural isolation and I won't miss that. 

I hope all of my readers are having a happy holiday season, and that they leave their trees up until New Years. ;-)


  1. So true! I was in my local grocery store tonight (about 9:00pm on Dec 25th) and the Christmas tree and all the decorations were gone. I was a little forlorn and said to my husband, "It's still Christmas!"

    Merry Christmas Orchid...enjoy those long staying decorations!

  2. Merry Christmas to you Helen! And I'll keep you in mind when I see the lights around New Years!

    I didn't assume that every place in Japan was the same in this regard, but it seems that your area (which is far more rural than Tokyo) is actually even more anal retentive about withdrawing the decorations! I share you sense of being forlorn about that.

  3. Yes, yes. A thousand time yes. I can beat both you guys - 8.02pm on christmas day itself. Two minutes after the shops shut. "Right, can't sell anything more off the back of this. Take it all down, lads."

    http://fightstart.blogspot.jp/2011/12/christmas-is-over-if-you-want-it.html (With apologies for the link spam. It is relevant though, promise.)

    Hope you had a better christmas this year, and have a happy new year too.

  4. Growing up in a place where Christmas was ultimately about family and sharing time together, despite the endless commercialization, I share your feelings.

    But the equivalent for Japan is the New Year holiday. Imagine if the US starting focusing on a modern, new "Megaday" holiday on December 18th every year, with city and store decorations, and music, reminding everyone of this fact from the day after Halloween. And then you had to fit in all of the Christmas preparations in that last week before the 25th.

    It might make one tear down all of that Megaday stuff by the evening of the 18th, and get things "done right" as soon as possible for the day that really matters.

    I'm lucky that the beautiful winter / Christmas light display in front of my somewhat inaka station stays up all the way through January, despite the comings and goings of Christmas and New Years.


  5. This is my first christmas in Tokyo and outside Sweden. Up until 21st I had to study for final tests at my language school that I didn't even have time to feel Christmas. And now that I am on holiday, it is over. Also makes me sad. Christmas lasts until January in Sweden.

  6. Kamo: Thanks for the link. It's not spam at all! I read your post, and I think that a lot of the vestiges are about commercialization, but I think that on an individual level, that's not what it's about. There are lots of people here who put up immense displays of lights in front of their homes (rivaling commercial ones in some places), and I think that is where you see the spirit. They do it because they love the season, and I noted yesterday that Americans stay in for Christmas in private celebration while the Japanese go out in public. I miss the public way the Japanese went about it, particularly as I like to walk and I'm walking around on a cold gray day and things are dead (save the elaborate decorations on lawns), but I do think that family, friends, food, and individual traditions are what it's all about. The decorations are a reminder that it is that time of year and we like to leave them up to live in that mood just a little bit longer. When the shops rip them down by the night of the 25th in Japan, it is a cultural nod of ascent to the notion that the holiday is irrelevant to their culture. The fact that they stay up here is a reflection of the deeper value, though it is still underscored by crass commercial interests (and always will be).

    Hiyodori: Yes, New Year's is definitely the deal in Japan, and you are right to point out that their real holiday competes with Christmas in terms of the decorations. However, they do sometimes peacefully coexist prior to the 25th. I have definitely seen various pine branch decorations placed in front of homes and shops alongside cute Santas and stockings. But, I do get your point about getting it done "right". It is a reflection of the meticulousness in Japan and a certain perfectionism that I find myself missing nearly every day!

    Emelie: I'm so sorry that you had to study so much leading up to the holiday. There is no consolation, except to say to try to find something in the New Year's celebrations to warm your heart. I'd say visit Meiji shrine (but not on New Year's eve or day) and enjoy the nature, atmosphere, food, and, yes, even souvenirs.

    Thanks to all for commenting!

  7. Thanks for the reply : ) I will try to go to Meiji Shrine in the beginning of 2013! Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

  8. Well I grew up in the US celebrating Christmas probably in all the same ways that you did, and I still take mine down as early as I can, the morning of the 26th at the latest. I would take them down Christmas night if the kids would let me. Having them up after Christmas morning is just depressing to me. Maybe the Japanese are a little too quick for some people, by if the event is over it's over. Don't see the point in keeping the decorations up for days or weeks later. As for New Years I rarely see decorations up after the 3rd.

  9. Re: New Year decorations. When I lived in Tohoku, I noticed all of the dessicated sanma that people hung on their front doors and wished that they would vanish when shogatsu ended. Something about coming across a bedraggled fish head in February never tickled my fancy. I didn't see this as much in Kyoto, maybe because the dead fish density would have been overwhelming.
    (Sorry for the odd poster name. It seems to be what blogpost thinks I am.)

  10. For the majority of my life Christmas, or rather Christmas Eve, was a huge celebration filled w/ close friends and a large extended family. We laugh and have fun. Around midnight, all the adults gather around to watch the kids and teens to watch them open presents and then the adults exchange presents too. However, in my family we go out into the neighborhood, with some of the neighbors and their families, and look at all the decorations. Then all the kids would play with each other. When I lived in NY (childhood) Christmas ended with a huge neighborhood snowball war, after looking at decorations, everyone going back to their homes and sipping some hot cocoa before going to sleep...and of course waking up Christmas morning to open the presents. Some of our neighbors even go caroling around noon on Christmas day and keep doing so until the twelfth day of Christmas. After moving (Elderly folk could no longer coup with the extreme cold/snow) that wasn’t the case but we’d still find fun things to do with our friends and family. I do love many aspects about Japanese culture, but when it comes to some of their imported Holidays, especially Christmas, I could never handle being forced to work with little to no say. Moreover, as I hate how secular (commercialized abuse of a saint) it can be in America, I doubt I would be able to handle the grotesquely commercialized feel the of a Christmas in Japan…or Christmas eve basically being the real Valentine’s Day for young couples (Japanese Valentine’s Day and White Day are incredibly depressing to me).


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