It’s the weekend after Thanksgiving, my back is aching from pulling the heavy Christmas tree box out of storage but I am still bending over and pulling out each Christmas tree part. The job that I remember my father doing when I was a child. For some families having a real Christmas tree is tradition, but for me tradition was watching my dad pull out the dusty Christmas tree box out of the attic and down the stairs into the living room, while my mom is yelling over everyone, “Ray, careful don’t hurt yourself! Roz get out of the way so your father and brother don’t fall!”
Dad huffing “she is fine” he said with a smile on his face.
“I’m careful mom, I won’t get in the way” I said jumping excitedly waiting for that moment when they drop it down and I get to open the box with my older sister. My sister was pretending to not care while sitting on the couch watching MTV. I opened the box myself and started pulling out each piece throwing it aside knowing my sister would see and want to join me.
“That’s not how you do it Roz! Ugh fine, I’ll help you!” she said pretending to be annoyed. But I knew she wanted to help and I wanted her to help me too. It’s more fun doing it together.
Startled from my dogs that suddenly started barking, I was brought back out of my memory from my childhood in Detroit, Michigan, to the now where I’m in Tokyo, Japan sitting in my living room with Natsuko who is sick on the couch. “Good boys, come!” she said while coughing. I continued organizing the tree pieces on the floor. I thought about the memory and thought about how to celebrate Christmas this year here in Japan.
“Natsuko, as an adult, before meeting me, did you ever celebrate Christmas? I know you told me stories as a child, your mother always gave you books, but as an adult?” I asked.
“Yes sometimes. Just dinner with friends or at a bar.” She responded.
“Why not these last couple years with me?” I asked. But I knew the answer.
“Because it is not something people really celebrate here in Japan as adults because they have to work. It is just hard.” She said pitying me. Tokyo, Japan has amazing light shows and decorations you can see almost everywhere you go. The spirit of Christmas appears to be everywhere. But when Christmas Day comes I can feel it is different. It is business as usual, people work, maybe they might remember it is Christmas Day and might say “Merry Christmas”. But it is nothing like back home where the streets are quiet except for people traveling to visit their families, or people outside caroling. And it’s clear that it is not business as usual. Most places are closed and almost everyone is off work. It seems that everyone is celebrating either with family or friends, even if they don’t celebrate Christmas, they are doing something with friends or family that day. A feeling I miss when I’m here in Japan on Christmas Day. Natsuko will have to use a vacation day just to spend it with me. But that aside, even though I knew why we haven’t celebrated here in the past, I wanted that to change for us.
“Yeah, I know that’s Japan’s culture. But I was thinking, it is not my culture. And your family is going to be my family.” I said hinting at her.
“Yes? So you want to celebrate with them?” she asked.
“Yeah, family is important for me, your family and mine, even though mine is on the other side of the world and we can’t be with them this year, your family is here and maybe I can share my family’s traditions with them. Have them over for Christmas.” I said eagerly.
“Yeah, okay.” She said. I wasn’t looking at her, I was still putting the tree together, but I could feel she was happy. We didn’t say it, but we knew this was the first time that we talked about having her family over for Christmas, and that’s a special change for us. We are getting married, whether Japan says it is legal or not, our families are coming together and sharing our families’ cultures together. This is just another example of marriage, the marriage of family holiday traditions.
Tonight, Natsuko and I will continue my family’s traditions of putting together the fake Christmas tree and decorating it together. Tokyo is far from Detroit, Michigan, and my family is far away, but tonight I can feel my family close, in my heart, as I share this tradition with Natsuko.
By sharing my family traditions with friends and loved ones here in Japan, it helped me to find the spirit of Christmas that I thought was missing from this land, maybe it can do the same for you. I hope all of you here who are far from home, like me, can find your comfort and joy of Christmas too!
“Have a Merry Christmas!” – Bakappuru*
* Baka meaning fool, or quirky or harmlessly eccentric in Japanese put together with kappuru meaning couple.