Saturday, January 1, 2011

de Grinching

Christmas and New Year's are over YEA!

Does that make me a Grinch? Probably. I am guessing though that there are a lot of other people out there that feel the same but are unwilling to admit it.

It's not that I don't like Christmas, still it is complicated...

I like the "idea" of the holiday--the love and the sharing and of course I like to see the lights and the trees that decorated my childhood, but have not really decorated my adulthood since coming to Japan. But I really, really don't like all the madness that can lead up to the 25th. My aversion comes from when I was younger and the whole season ended up feeling like a chore that had to be dealt with rather than a magical, festive event. I know that it's not like I met some evil, bad Santa or got coal in my stockings so I should just shake it off and move on...

Maybe if I had moved to a country that had a strong sense of Christmas tradition or had married a man for whom the holiday meant something, things would be different. As they are, here in Japan the 25th is a total non-event. The 24th is when unmarried COUPLES spend megabucks on a fancy dinner and a posh hotel room. The 24th is when families with little kids eat Kentucky Fried chicken (seriously!) cake (short cake or something similar--not even a Yule log) and parents give a present or two to their kiddos. There are tiny trees (some larger ones in Malls or in major department stores and train stations across the country) and there is a craze over "illumination" aka lots of Christmas lights strung over anything that does not move (but not usually on individual, private homes).

So, the whole Christmas scene in Japan (not surprisingly) is a bust and rather depressing really. Well then, you ask, what kind of winter festival is celebrated here? That would be New Years. And guess what? It is kind of depressing too.

This in Japanese New Year's in a nutshell:
  • starting around the 28th or 29th everybody cleans their houses from top to bottom inside and out--screens, windows, wash the siding if you've got it--everything.
  • if you live in a rural area or with older people who have rural roots they (the women) will start to shop and cook. It used to be that ALL the shops would close from the afternoon of the 31st to the 4th. And there was supposed to be NO cooking on the first so women had to really get ready. (Yes, they look gorgeous and appealing when the box is first opened, but they start out cold and then oooh--COLD leftovers when you can already see your breath in the house how yummy!). I was unaware that ALL the shops would be closed on the 1st, 2nd and 3rd during my first New Year's in Japan and nearly starved, but that is another story.
  • wash the car--it is FREEZING outside, perhaps even snowing, but the car WILL be clean in and out before the sun goes down on the 31st.
  • watch strange, bizarre and boring TV (even stranger than normal) on New Year's Eve and eat soba noodles before you go to bed so you'll be able to make it through the night.
  • go to a shrine or temple (battling hideous traffic and crowds if you live in a big city or if you choose a "name brand" location) and pray for a year's worth of health and good fortune--this can be done at midnight on the 31st or sometime between the 1st and the 15th. Most people visit during the day sometime between the 1st and the 3rd, but a night visit to a shrine does have a lot of ambiance--there will inevitably be a nice bonfire, sweet non-alcoholic sake and maybe even drumming if you are in a really rural or traditional area.
  • give tons of money to your children, grandchildren, nieces or nephews--this is what happens rather that the major gift giving at Christmas and if you are an adult with a big family it will really cost you--typically at least 10 to 20 bucks a kid under twelve (for kids who don't live with you) and anywhere from 100 to 300 bucks a pop for kids between 13 & 20 who live with you (and need more money). Most kids don't get an allowance and this is a major source of cash.
  • visit and be visited by relatives--just like in the States, people flock to their family homes at New Year's. The roads, trains, ferries and airports are packed. Not pretty at all. But if that is the only time off that your company will give you...
  • go to Hawaii--everybody who does not have to work (in the service industry), or go visit relatives and who has enough to afford the price-gouging goes on a package tour to Honolulu (or Guam or Thailand--somewhere warm--I think this is very smart.)
So, that is what New Year's is all about in this here part of the world. As you can see it can be fraught with "chore peril". The thought of all that cleaning and cooking and visiting by relatives whom you may or may not want to have visit you gives me the chills. Yes, again I am laying bare for the world my scars. I admit them and embrace them and so do all that I can to avoid having to do things that stress me out (or threaten my CONTROL) during December and January.

Why do the spring cleaning in the middle of winter? Isn't it easier to chase the dust bunnies away little by little throughout the whole year? (Even the ones behind the washer are not so daunting when you are not taking the WHOLE house apart.) How about the following? Take down the screens and wash them when it is warm if they are obstructing your view of the garden. Hose off the car when you feel like it--if you feel like it. Wash the curtains in October when they have a chance of NOT freezing on the line. Make soup in the slow cooker and go hiking on the 31st if it is sunny (you can enjoy the HOT leftovers for lunch or dinner on the 1st through the 3rd, still won't have to cook and won't have any shrimp eyes ogling you). If you have kids, or two jobs and don't want to do it at all--DON'T. Is this blasphemy? Am I alone, or does this make more sense to anyone else in the world?

We went hiking three times this week. I spent today (New Year's Day) making cinnamon rolls and watching old DVDs. I am pretty sure that if I had a big family here, we would not be able to get away with this sort of "selfishness". I am also pretty sure that if either of us had a big, functional family (or friends who didn't fly off to the far ends of the earth during the holidays) we would spend our time differently. Who knows?

But as they are and as it is, December and January make me feel like a Grinch.
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