The most accurate expression of an ancient Yuletide Season may be exhibited in Japan. Kurisamasu (Japanese for “Christmas”) is purely a secular event, which reaches all the way back to Babylon into Christmas’s DNA. Prior to Christmas being adopted by Christianity, it was a pagan winter festival celebrated throughout the world on the ancient winter solstice.
Throughout antiquity, all the sun gods’ birthdays were celebrated on the ancient winter solstice – December 25th. The Catholic Encyclopedia tells us that “The Nativity of the Unconquered Sun” or “Mithra’s Winter Festival” claims strong responsibility for Christianity’s December 25th date for Christmas. Mithra was a sun god adopted by Rome, which was the Persian version of the original Babylonian sun god – Tammuz. It seems somehow appropriate that the Land of the Rising Sun should shed light on the genuine nature of Yule and a Yuletide/Christmas Season. By the way, there are several stone pyramids in Herai, Japan that are supposed to be older than those of Egypt and were once used for “sun worship.”
Most of the West knows Christmas by its bi-polar nature where “Christmas” expresses two opposite ends of a spectrum: (1) the religious events that commemorates Jesus’ birth (2) the annual secular celebration characteristic of midwinter: the lights, the evergreen decorations, the gift giving, music, chance to get together with family and friends, and the special feeling of warmth that the season brings – an ancient Yuletide atmosphere. This island country shaped by Shintoism and Buddhism drops any religious pretense, and thus, delights in the sensual pleasures and material goods that Christmas brings. This is an ancient Yuletide atmosphere in its very essence. One harried Japanese shopper told NPR, “Christmas has nothing to do with religion.” Scan the world and look at the 95% of the world population that celebrate Christmas and you will find the common ingredient regardless of their culture or religious affiliation – Christmas has everything to do with retail sales.
Even though Japanese stores only began offering Christmas sales in the 1930s, you would be hard-pressed to find a more extravagant Christmas anywhere. In 2000, three-foot Christmas trees were snapped up at $250 apiece while supermarkets offered one near-perfect apple imprinted with “Merry Christmas” for $8.
There are two types of Christmas’s in Japan. The first one is a morphed version of the American Christmas for families with young children complete with their own little Christmas tree and wrapped gifts beneath. Instead of a Christmas goose or ham though, Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC) somehow got its wing in Japan’s door, and no family-centered Christmas in Japan would be complete without a Christmas Cake – one of Japan’s original contributions to the holiday.
The second version is Japan’s other unique contribution to Christmas – S-E-X. That’s right. SEX, which by the way has taken on greater significance with Japan’s declining birthrate. In a country, which has been traditionally PDA (Public Display of Affection) shy, it’s a custom for young couples to go to a luxurious dinner, exchange expensive gifts (jewelry most common) and head to high-priced hotels where they are directed by scantily clad female elves to their rooms for a night of passion.
Some Japanese men may have trouble telling their girlfriends they love them, but one thing they’re not – cheapskates. The man is expected to bear all Christmas Eve costs, which typically exceed $1,000.
Japan’s making love aspect of Christmas Eve is so widely accepted that Dec. 24 is frequently referred to as “H-Day.” No that’s not short for “holiday.” The letter “H” is taken from the English word “hormone,” and is a common symbol for sex in Japan. Obvious to the most casual observer, H-Day is intensely sensual and materialistic.
December 25th is just another working day in Japan, yet they probably display more Christmas trees, wreaths and reindeers than most places in the United States. Both religious and secular figures familiar to Christmas have been co-opted by the Japanese, but it appears that any religious meaning of the holiday has been stripped from it. Or has it? Legend has it that a Tokyo department store once innocently displayed a Santa Claus nailed to a cross. I ask you, “Is Santa seen, by many people worldwide, as a type of savior?” His coming heralds the Christmas Season. His promotion to save merchant’s bottom line literally started with the newly re-forged American Christmas in the early 19th century. When Santa is mentioned, many times so is the Spirit of Christmas and people, especially children, are told to believe in something joyful, magical and something that we can’t see. Hum. You be the judge.
~ Robin Main
Copyright Dec. 19, 2009 – Author: Robin Main.
Article written for U.S. News & World Report, but was never published
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