In some ways this felt like my first Christmas.
It was the first Christmas that I have not spent in Grasby with my family. Originally I had intended to spend this day surfing the net and watching rented videos, glorying in fantastic solitude (its not like I object to the whole village turning up to get pissed in my kitchen and living room on Christmas Day, it’s just that it would have been different). As it happened I mimicked my Dad’s Christmas Day extravaganza on a slightly smaller scale, after listening to Nesuphyn and Gamer Girl talking about how lonely they would have felt else, I was glad I did too.
Christmas Dinner was not brilliant but everyone seemed to enjoy it. And they all ate everything which is a good sign I think. Now I know how to do turkey and stuff…and of course with one working gas ring and one tiny oven the timings were way off but it all seemed to work out in the end. Then this afternoon my vocabulary consisted of ‘chu’ said in various intonations as I role-played an electric mouse called ‘Chu-chu’ (Pokemon BESM)…for some reason the Jack Daniels bottle went down a little faster than I intended (and the mint liqueur…and the Kahlua…and the vodka).
Actually as I was pouring out the headache juice (Jack Daniels and coke) Nesuphyn said he was surprised that I was a whiskey drinker, to which I replied ‘I don’t drink whiskey’. He looked a little puzzled and pointed out that JD is a whiskey…now yeah it says ‘Quality Tennessee Sour Mash Whiskey’ on the label but really; does anyone actually consider it a whiskey? It goes down way too easily and plus it can be mixed with coke…Now to me Whiskey means Scotch and I hate the taste of Scotch (but love the smell), plus it’s blasphemous to mix Scotch with anything in my book (it smells wrong). Surely Jack Daniels doesn’t actually count as whiskey? Right?
So I was celebrating the winter solstice a few days ago and now I’m cooking Christmas Dinner…it’s an odd one isn’t it? Christmas in Japan certainly gives me some interesting ideas on the various feast days and holidays we have in Britain and where the religion comes in and where it doesn’t.
In Britain every year I hear a complaint from both Christians and non-Christians. (By non-Christians I mean those people who turn up maybe to the Carol Service on Christmas Eve or maybe never or who just aren’t religious. I call them non-Christians because I’m lumping non-practioners in with not religious.) The complaint is about the ‘true meaning’ of Christmas and how it’s not in evidence. How everything is all about consumption and greed and how no one is thinking about the message of Jesus…
I expected that Christmas in Japan would be like every other day, from everything I heard from other JETs and from what I knew about it being a Shinto/Buddhist country that made sense. Then Halloween hit in all its plastic, dress up glory and I wondered.
And now Christmas. Lights are up around the town, and they are Christmas lights, there are Santa outfits in the shop and, as I discovered earlier this week, turkeys are provided in the supermarkets. It’s for the children I’ve been told. And they get presents, some of them know about stockings and most of them have little plastic trees. Which, actually, come to think about it is how I mostly remember Christmas when I was a kid and from various trips to the continent. Christmas was for us (me and my sister) and New Year was for the adults. And that, so far, seems to be how it is shaping up in Japan.
And of course, nobody is complaining about how we’re missing the true meaning of Christmas (or if they are it’s not loud enough for me to notice) Its a festival of fun, party lights, gift-giving, a bit of a laugh before you visit the shrine for New Years. The spiritual is all there in amongst the lights and the lights are the meaning. We are celebrating and laughing and having fun…and yes ok we should be making sure as many people as possible are doing the same. But it’s no good claiming Christmas as only a Christian festival anymore guys. I was always told that Christmas was ‘celebrated all over the world’ and I always rather doubted it, afterall wasn’t it a Christian Festival…well maybe that was true once but it really isn’t now.
We’re all celebrating all over the world a something in the middle of winter, a time to send cards and letters, a feeling of cyclical continuity. A light in the darkness as the sun comes back, a light in the darkness as the son is born? Either is good. Religion? Well I have my solstice, others have Hannukah, Bodhi Day, Inti Raymi, Shabe-Yalda, Ramadan, Soyal, Quanza, Winternights, even Christmas is still religious for some of the Christians. And does it matter that we have a secular festival of lights in the darkness? Or warmth in the middle of the cold? (Yes I am ignoring the southern hemisphere I admit)
To be honest I don’t think it does. We are humans, we need some fun in the winter, this true meaning of Christmas a la modernity has little to do with a baby born in the autumn in a stable or whatever but then from my view in Japan I think it has little to do with greed and wanting ‘more, more, more’. It is the cards and letter, it is the packet of Christmas Oreo cookies that I got delivered to my door this morning from America. This is connection calling connection, one after another down the spider lights. And the lights shine together to each other and we have survived the winter again!
Only listen to the words…
Light a candle in the darkness.
The Son is the light of the world.
The Sun rises once more in the middle of winter.
Gaze at the light of the menorah.
Gaze into the light of the world.
See out the night around the korzee as the sun is born anew.
Unto us a son is born.
Unto us the sun is given.
For the light of the world has been born anew…and Christian and Pagan both agree for the mysteries in our religions lie not in the meaningless truths of everyday but in how we understand. How we seek to explain to each other using a mere language of words what we feel/think to be true. How the pulsing spiderlights enfold us and impart to us the truth which can only be explained to the individual for the language we use is our own, not as a community using common words but as an individual divided by our use and understanding of our own words from other individuals. The flame is lit and we cannot explain but imperfectly as yet.