The ExPat Returneth

Friday, January 6, 2012


Today is the Epiphany and the Twelfth Day of Christmas. Tomorrow Christmas will be over. However, for the past week I've been annoyed with the Christmas decorations around my house, feeling claustrophobic from all the clutter. And I would remind myself that although the rest of the country has moved on, it's still officially Christmas. Christmas really didn't start until Christmas Eve. For some reason, Christmas in America now starts at the end of the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade when Santa appears. Which means by December 26th, everyone is sick of Christmas music, decorations, and food.

By this standard, on January 2 you're either lazy or a redneck if you still have your tree up. I'm both, but my tree stays up through January 6 because I'm also stubborn. It's still Christmas, dammit!

Which is why it was easier to celebrate the true Christmas season in Japan.

In Japan the week after Christmas (which is not a holiday) is a preparatory time for Oshogatsu, New Year's holiday. (Unlike some Asian countries, Japan is on the Gregorian calender and celebrates the New Year on January 1). Because Oshogatsu is the most important holiday of the year, many businesses, government facilities and schools close before and after New Year's day. Everyone is fueled by the excitement of New Year's. There are end of the year parties for offices, but primarily it's a family holiday.

The time after New Year's is relaxing (though maybe not for Japanese moms). When we lived in Japan back in the '90s, everything closed down so you were forced to stay at home and watch bad TV. Now more shops and restaurants are open. As an outsider, it's pleasurable to walk quiet streets or escape to the ski slopes or beaches.

There's no pressure to start Christmas early and you can keep on Christmassing through the real season. Yet, the stores are decorated and playing Christmas music by the end of November so you get the best of both worlds.

Last year we moved back to the States two days before Christmas. I was too jetlagged and stressed from moving to reflect on celebrating Christmas overseas. This year I'm feeling cranky from different stresses. I joined other American Moms for the month-long "killing yourself for Christmas" of cooking, baking, shopping, decorating, partying and volunteering for the million-and-one activities done at elementary schools. We avidly read articles and discussed ideas on how to simplify the holiday, yet we failed. December was an all- consuming month with parties, school events, and preparation for the big blowout of Christmas.

And then it was over. Except for the mess.

But it's still Christmas.

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