How I spent my Christmas Eve
Christmas is not a holiday here but this year Monday 24th, Christmas Eve, was a holiday in lieu of the Emperor’s birthday (79 years) which is December 23rd. Because his birthday fell on a Sunday this year the holiday spilled over into the 24th. The really big holiday here, though, is New Year’s. It’s like Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s and the 4th of July all rolled into one.
My first Christmas in Japan was truly awful, alone in my cold apartment eating take-out McDonald’s. It was raining then, too. In despair I decided to travel one hour or so by subway to the famous Ginza shopping district on Christmas Eve, hoping there might me lots of people out and about, and Christmas lights, too. But there was nothing. Ginza on Christmas Eve 1989 was like a ghost town in the rain. That’s not true today, though. Christmas has become much more popular here and light displays, window displays, partying, domestic decorations and a festive spirit are common now.
The week of Christmas I had a full schedule of late-afternoon-evening English lessons at a neighbourhood English school right up to Friday 28th. I’m covering for a New Zealand woman who went to Spain for the holidays. Some foreign teachers use the yearend holidays to quit Japan, leave their contracts and not return. Public boards of education always have to do a little bit of replacement hiring after the summer and winter holidays to replace foreign teachers who decide they’ve had enough. That’s not the case with this New Zealand woman, but it’s true of some people.
The day before Christmas I woke up late. I showered, dressed, quickly did a couple loads of dirty dishes in the dish washer and two loads of laundry in the washing machine. Hung out the laundry. Went to the convenience store for my morning paper. I ate no breakfast because I knew that our family Christmas party and dinner would be a luncheon/dinner party beginning early afternoon. So while my wife went to her mother’s house nearby to prepare for that I stayed home with my chores, plus I typed and sent some E-mails, returned a couple rented DVDs to the rental shop, picked up some kitchen supplies at the dollar store, and generally puttered around home.
It was a good Christmas party with my Japanese family and relations from 1:00 p.m. to almost 6:00 p.m. I was stuffed with chicken, salad, bread and dessert. After that I went to the Christmas Eve service at the local Japanese Presbyterian church with my son, because he wanted to. After the service we were invited to a little social get-together in the church basement. I expected that and knew that Christmas cake and tea would be served. But we were still so full from our own party that we bowed out.
My son, 14, was surprisingly very serious about Christmas. In the morning he was humming Christmas songs in Japanese around the apartment. He was adamant about the Christmas Eve service, followed by a Christmas video. He was very specific about the placement of Christmas stockings, and after that he was insistent about everyone going to bed early to allow Santa to come. He was very ritualistic about it. It’s almost as if he still believes in Santa Claus. He’s a chip off the old block.
When we arrived home from church we found the cat going crazy with loneliness and hunger. He’s my daughter’s cat and I’m not allowed to feed him. Only the women in the house do that. My daughter wasn’t home. She was gone all day. I only caught a brief glimpse of her walking out the door in the morning when she left for a two-day supermarket job - college students hired for just a couple of days to handle the heavy Christmas traffic. My wife wasn’t home yet, either, so I immediately telephoned her at her mother’s apartment and said,
“When are you coming home? The cat’s going crazy! PLEASE feed the cat!!”
“Okay. I come home from now.”
“Please hurry! The cat’s going crazy!”
We spent the rest of Christmas Eve watching a couple of Christmas movies on DVD, starting with the Jim Carey, Gary Oldman version of “A Christmas Carol” (2009), which is a mostly CG movie. The second movie was the 1987 Mel Gibson, Danny Glover violent police action “Lethal Weapon.” Christmas has nothing to do with the story, but it is set at Christmas time.