I get a little grumpy when it comes to made-up holidays, by which I mean blindly adopted foreign holidays with complete disregard for their cultural significance. I wouldn’t mind (actually I would be the biggest fan) if adopting holidays served the purpose of intercultural education and understanding. Unfortunately it mostly serves retail.
When I lived in Germany, my main fake holiday pet peeve was the tightening embrace of Halloween, the mindless mimicking of what mostly young people saw on American TV shows and thought of as cool, because it was on American TV shows. I was quite dismayed to find out that Halloween is even bigger in Japan, and here it’s apparently not for kids to extort candy, but for young adults to get drunk and disrupt traffic.
I was even more dismayed (yet strangely proud) when “Halloween” became the first holiday’s name that my then two-year-old daughter Hana could say. My wife and I have been doing our best to immerse her in Japanese and German culture, and how does she thank us? “Halloween! Halloween daisuki!” (That she had to be removed from her first Halloween party at her preschool for being a bawling, frightened mess is something she now claims never happened.)
We did not dress her up for her first Halloween party, since she didn’t like to keep her clothes on much then, so what’s the point? We intended to make up for that a couple of months later, for the celebration of German carnival season (it’s basically the same as Halloween, except that people throw candy at you without asking). My original intention was to dress her as classic Princess Leia and tell her it’s Mickey Mouse. That proved too much of an effort – also you were not allowed to bring blasters to the party. With time running short, I decided to get a ready-made costume from Tokyu Hands. To my surprise, the selection wasn’t exactly overwhelming. We had the choice of either Donald Trump, or Piko Taro of Pen-Pineapple-Apple-Pen fame. I did not want to scare the other kids and parents, so I narrowed it down to Piko Taro. Hana loved Piko Taro, and she loves him still, now that his international novelty fame has gone the way of all novelty fame. Every night before bedtime she entertains us with new, creative freestyle variations of PPAP. Alas, the costume was not available in her size. Eventually we settled for a pair of Minnie Mouse ears, another character she loves. She loved the ears, too, but not necessarily on her head, at least not for longer than ten seconds at a time.
This year I am grateful for Halloween, because it keeps Hana’s mind off Easter. Easter has officially become her favorite holiday. She does not quite understand, however, why we shouldn’t celebrate it whenever we feel like it (which is a bit like my relationship with Christmas).
I have often wondered why Easter has not yet caught on in Japan the same way Christmas, Halloween or Valentine’s Day have. Some people argue that a dead naked man on a cross is not cute enough for Japan’s holiday needs. I don’t buy that. International Christmas perception has been forever neglecting Mary, Joseph and Baby Jesus in favor of Santa Claus and reindeers. I’m sure Japan is ready for fluffy bunnies and colorful eggs. I believe the reason Easter hasn’t caught on is that every single American TV show has a Christmas episode and a Halloween episode, but Easter episodes are rare. Some Japanese even celebrate St. Patrick’s Day, a day I would never have heard of if it weren’t for American shows about Irish cops. So, for the sake of Japan, I demand more Easter programming on American television.
Looking back at our German Halloween experience, I remember one observation my Japanese wife made at the time. Unlike me, she did not see kids ganging up to be a bigger nuisance. She saw kids sharing holiday joy regardless of the color of their skin or their parents’ belief systems. That is something only fake holidays can do: actual Christmas or Ramadan are not incredibly inclusive.
After all, fake Halloween does serve the purpose of intercultural exchange. Therefore I will squeal with my daughter: “Halloween daisuki!”