Seasons Greetings – with all the bells and whistles

Opinions - December 17th, 2004
Robert J. Collins

by Robert J. Collins

This is my favorite time of the year. It always has been and always will be.

I’ve written before about the sights, smells, sounds and colors in the lengthening parade of my special yuletide memories. I even had a whole chapter in one of the Max Danger books devoted to a typical seasonal activity in Japan — going over the top in the decoration department.

(In the book, Max’s acquaintance takes the gold medal with a department store window he decorates in the Ginza. The baby born in the stable surrounded by bored-looking animals is rendered surprisingly well – wise men and shepherds included – but Santa Claus looking on as he decorated a fir tree in the background was, to Max’s sensitivity, a bit much.)

During this favorite time of the year, however, one is wise to make private peace with whatever religious principles or beliefs one feels are important. I remember the good nuns responsible for my early education suggested that replacing “Christ” with “X” (as in “Merry Xmas”) was a godless thing and should be avoided.

I have since made my “private peace” on that issue. I don’t really know or care about the X/Christ issue. (I still have difficulty, however, writing Xmas — even after reading somewhere that “X” was an acceptable symbol for “Christ” in Greek or something.) Old habits die hard.

But old habits must die to not only maintain sanity during the holiday season, but to enjoy things as well. We had dinner last month with two couples relatively new to Japan – one couple from Germany, the other from England. This was mid-November and both couples were astonished to see Christmas decorations beginning to appear in shops and stores.

The next half hour of conversation revolved around the evils of commercialism overwhelming and burying the simple meaning of a religious event. Examples were presented by each couple as to how rigidly they corralled non-religious activities in their households:

“We don’t recognize the custom of gift-giving until the afternoon of Father Christmas’ arrival.”

“We don’t put up a tree until hours before midnight on Christmas Eve.”

Yeah? Right. That’s baloney. And as years go by, particularly during their assignments in Japan, that’s going to be baloney particularly difficult to maintain.

The deal is to forget the original “meaning of Christmas” as it’s reflected in today’s festivities. “Work at converting folks back to the simple basics — the so-called true meaning?” Don’t even think about it. Make your own peace with the heavens.

And now let the good times roll — over your back and around your head. Enjoy every colorful light and jingle bell sound. Commercialism pays for it, why not wade in and have fun. See the lights at Omotesando, Ebisu, Odaiba, and the Mori complex in Azabu. Become part of the color at department stores in the Ginza, and Otemachi.

My immediate family will be together again this Christmas and that’s the best thing of all. And the hype and hoopla will make it even more fun.

Religion? I’ve settled that.