The Christmas decorations have been up since October and the insufferable music is playing on loop everywhere; J-Pop Christmas songs with broken English….kill me now!!! This will be the third Christmas I’ve spent in Japan, and it remains one of the most “depressing” times of the year. My Facebook feed has been plastered with pictures of decorated trees, Mariah Carey live performances, and the god-awful John Lewis advert.
I think I might drop Facebook for a couple of months, and distance myself from the constant stream of shit that people seem to like and feel the need to share. Anyway, being thousands of miles away from my family and close friends, and living in a country that offers a mere imitation of the seasonal festivities, it’s hard to match the excitement of my childhood. Now, Christmas kind of sucks. Bah Humbug.
My brother and I went to a “Church of England” Primary School where we were taught the religious origins of the festival, something that has been lost amongst the images of Santa, reindeer, presents and turkey. We performed in the Nativity Plays, sang carols and begrudgingly went to the church services at the end of school term. It was all harmless and definitely put you in the festive spirit. If I recall my last performance, I played and sang as King Herod. There’s nothing like singing about the mass slaughter of baby boys. After all, like my friend eloquently said, “tis the season to be jolly, you fuck”.
On Christmas Eve, we’d watch TV, write our letters to Santa, and ask Dad about the pinpoint location of jolly, old Saint Nick. “He should be over Australia by now” he’d reply. Excited and cheery, we’d rest our heads on our pillows and sleep till morning came. On Christmas Day, I’d wake up at thirty minute intervals to sneak a peek at the presents under the tree. Then we’d have breakfast and the wrapping would commence. I still remember opening my first game console, a Playstation One with Crash Bandicoot 3: Warped. After, our grandparents, uncles and aunties would come over to have dinner, watch TV and play board games.
My brother and I stopped believing in Santa after we did our own Crime Scene Investigation. We normally left a mince pie, glass of brandy and a carrot for Santa and Rudolph. So we decided to count the carrots in the fridge on Christmas Eve, and then counted them on Christmas Morning. It turned out that Rudolph didn’t want our gift and he’d somehow managed to return it to the bottom draw of the fridge. Meanwhile after closely examining Santa’s indecipherable, handwritten letter we noticed that his penmanship seem awfully similar to that of our father’s. Our parents attempted to deny it, but we knew the truth.
However I think the real turning point came in December 2006 (aged 15), when my mother took a trip to Japan while the “lads” went to Australia to watch the England Cricket Team fail miserably. My father, brother and I stayed at a friend’s house in Adelaide, where we celebrated the holidays. Their son was young, cheerful and excited. So at seven o’clock in the morning, we were awoken by a scream of “Merry Christmas”. My reaction was one of tired disgust to which I stayed in bed until ten. Without Mum and being away from home, I think I realised that Christmas wasn’t the joyous and exciting event I’d always thought it to be.
Now here in Japan, it’s become nothing but an average day. The presents have dried up, the Christmas tree is absent and the turkey has been replaced with sushi. Last Christmas Eve, my friends and I went to see Star Wars: The Force Awakens and indulged in a KFC “Christmas Party Meal”, slightly different from the usual. On Christmas Day, my girlfriend, a couple of friends and I did something reminiscent of Christmas Dinner but with slow-cooked beef. My family always send me their wishes, cards and care packages of Christmas Pudding, but it’s not really the same.
When I talk about Christmas in front of my students, I explain the cultural traditions of the UK and America and avoid the religious angle. I show them the Christmas Special of Mr.Bean and the concept of Christmas Pudding, which they’re amazed by. But I like to hammer home the point that if you strip away the layers of commercialisation, greed, one-upmanship and questionable religious significance, then Christmas is about family and friends coming together, reminiscing about the year, laughing and eating. And that’s what a truly miss.