In Japan, Christmas is observed on the 25th of December.
Christmas in Japan is celebrated quite differently from Western countries, and it is not a public holiday. While it's not traditionally a religious holiday in Japan, it has become a festive occasion with its unique customs and traditions. Here's how Christmas is typically celebrated in Japan:
One of the most iconic aspects of Christmas in Japan is the elaborate and beautiful Christmas illuminations (known as "Illumination" in Japanese). Cities and towns are adorned with millions of colorful lights, transforming streets, buildings, and parks into dazzling displays. Major cities like Tokyo and Osaka compete to create the most spectacular illuminations.
Christmas trees, both real and artificial, are commonly used for decorations. They are often placed in homes, shopping malls, and public spaces, and people decorate them with ornaments and lights.
Santa Claus, known as "Santa Kurōsu" in Japanese, is a central figure in Christmas celebrations. He is often depicted as a plump, jolly figure dressed in red. While gift-giving on Christmas Eve is not as common as in some Western countries, it has become a popular tradition, especially for couples. Exchanging gifts is typically done on Christmas Eve, with Christmas cake being a popular gift.
Christmas cake is a widely recognized symbol of the holiday in Japan. These cakes are typically sponge cakes decorated with strawberries, whipped cream, and often featuring a Santa Claus or Christmas tree design. Families often enjoy a Christmas cake together on Christmas Eve.
An unusual and unique tradition in Japan is eating Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC) for Christmas dinner. This custom, known as "Kurisumasu ni wa Kentakkii" (Kentucky for Christmas), began as a marketing campaign by KFC in the 1970s and has become a popular and often pre-ordered tradition.
Christmas Eve is considered a romantic holiday in Japan, similar to Valentine's Day. Couples often exchange gifts and enjoy a special evening together.
Christmas songs and carols are commonly played in stores and malls. Some Japanese people enjoy caroling and singing Christmas songs in their communities.
Some cities in Japan, such as Sapporo, host Christmas events and markets, featuring food stalls, holiday-themed merchandise, and entertainment.
While Christmas is not primarily a religious holiday in Japan, some Christian communities and churches hold special services to commemorate the birth of Jesus.
Christmas is followed by the more significant New Year's celebration in Japan, which is marked by various customs and traditions.
Christmas in Japan has evolved into a unique and colorful holiday that combines Western and Japanese elements. It's a time for enjoying the festive illuminations, spending time with loved ones, and embracing the holiday spirit in a distinctive Japanese way.
Here the festival is less a religious occassion and more a commercial event owing to the fact that only about 1% of the Japanese population is estimated to be Christian. Buddhism and Shintoism is the major religion in Japan. Christmas was initially introduced to Japan with the arrival of the first Europeans in the 16th century. But the festival gained popularity only in recent decades due to increasing migration of people from all over the world to Japan.
In Japan, Christmas celebrations take place on Christmas Eve and not on December 25, the actual Christmas Day. Preparations for Christmas begin here several weeks before December 24. Shopping for the season begin in earnest right from the beginning of December. Retail stores and shopping malls are seen to be thronged by a great number of people who spend quite a sum on Christmas trees, Santa clauses, Christmas gifts and other seasonal decorations. Most Japanese people love to decorate their homes with evergreens and adorn the exteriors with electric lights during Christmas. Even business establishments house a Christmas tree to observe the season of Jesus. Handing over presents to friends and family members is also quite a popular tradition here. The festival culminates with everyone in the family partaking in a sumptuous meal specially prepared to mark the occassion. The traditional Japanese christmas food is the Christmas cake, generally made of sponge cake, strawberries and whipped cream. Fried chicken is often eaten on Christmas Day.
And yet, Christmas is not a family occassion in Japan. The occassion holds a special meaning mainly for young people, especially women and teenagers. For young children, it is the time to recieve presents from "Hotei-osho", a Buddhist monk who is seen as the Japanese equivalent of Santa Claus.
Hotei-osho is believed to leave presents in each house for the children. It is said that this benevolent monk has eyes in the back of his head, so children try to behave like he is nearby. Christmas for those in Sunday schools is the happiest day of the year. On Christmas Eve or Christmas night, the children carry out special programs that go on for hours and consist of song, recitation and drama performances.
For single women in Japan, the Christmas Eve evening is the time to spend quality hours with their special someone. Excessive media hype has led to the occassion being seen as a time to be spent with one's boyfriend or girlfriend in a romantic setting. Like Valentine's Day in the U.S., it is an occassion when men express their love to the women they want in their lives. Christmas presents given to girls are mainly consist Teddy Bears, flowers, scarves, rings and other jewelry items. Greeting cards are also given to friends during this time.
In Japan, everyone wishes another 'Meri Kurisumasu', meaning "Merry Christmas", during Christmastime.