Christmas and O-Shogatsu in Multi-Cultural Canada
Christmas and O-Shogatsu in Multi-Cultural Canada
Let’s Share Them With Others
A Happy New Year—Akemashite omedet? gozaimasu—to you all. Like many readers, I was lucky enough to be able to share moments of joy with family and friends in a few get-togethers through Christmas into the New Year (o-sh?gatsu). As usual, the final week of the old year flew by in a flash. As soon as the hectic pre-Christmas shopping days and Christmas passed, or so it seemed, we were already ushering in the year 2008.
As for New Year’s Eve, I went to a casual “Western-style” party which climaxed, per custom, with the countdown of the final ten seconds up to midnight followed by lots of cheering, glass-clinking, hugs and handshakes. I also imagined people back in Japan going through the traditional rituals, starting on the eve with toshikoshi (literally “carrying-us-over-from-one-year-to-the-next”) soba, usually slurped while listening (mostly via TV or radio nowadays ) to the sound of gongs at Buddhist temples struck 108 times slowly. This is to free one and all from the “108 earthly desires”, or hang-ups, in order to start the new year refreshed. Many people young and old flock to big Shinto shrines to pray and receive hamaya (arrows to ward off evil).
Our family celebration of o-sh?gatsu has been reduced to the bare minimum—having o-zoni for the very first meal of the new year on January 1st. Being the only Japanese of the family, I prepare the traditional rice-cakes-in-soup fare, of which there are infinite regional and familial variations. My o-zoni is roughly based on my mother’s family recipe, some kind of a Kyushu variation, made up of soup of the standard seaweed and bonito shavings stock, leafy spinach, bits of pre-fried pork and plenty of grated daikon.
In Canada, I suppose most of the Nikkei/ijusha community celebrate Christmas along with other Canadians and many, I would guess, must also celebrate o-sh?gatsu with family and relatives in one way or another. Probably only those with access to the few Buddhist temples and maybe shrines can listen to the gong or receive hamaya. I almost forgot the internet, which probably enables us to listen to the gong on some Japanese website.
In my own perception, this week or so of festivities and get-togethers get rolled up into one giant celebration. Of course, I appreciate the special significance Christmas has for Christians, and that of o-sh?gatsu for Japanese people. At the same time, archaeologists, astronomers and other scientists point out that mankind since pre-historic times has been celebrating winter solstice, the time when days start getting longer, or the harbinger of long-awaited spring, I also feel that both the Christmas message of “Peace on Earth and Goodwill to Men (& Women)” and the spirit of collectively welcoming the auspicious arrival of a new year are so universal that it would be a pity if they’re not shared with non-Christian and non-Japanese people as much as possible.
What with so many immigrant and mixed families in Metro Vancouver, there must be myriad combinations of Christmas and Jewish, Buddhist, Muslim and other non-Christian festivities celebrated by such families. My family happens to be quite mixed, my wife originally being a Singaporean of Indian extraction and I being three-quarters Japanese and one-quarter Finnish. While our children might be considered quite an exotic mix in some other countries, it does not seem as big a deal here, where mixed marriages relatively fairly common.
Religion wise, my wife and two children are Roman Catholics while I was raised a Lutheran and now consider myself Buddhist. Celebrating family Christmas still comes naturally to me because of childhood Yuletide experiences. My wife and kids attend Christmas services at the local parish church, and at home we put up the tree with decorations including many brought from Singapore ten years ago. On Christmas day we open presents and then and then sit down to a Christmas “dinner” which is really a late lunch.
We have also evolved a “tradition” of sorts. Every year we have a get together, inviting old friends as well as recent acquaintances, particularly people like foreign students who are away from their family, as well as our children’s school friends so we get a good mix of the young and old. We also make sure those who can play music bring their instruments.
Vancouver being such an international city, this year we happened to have people from Singapore, Hong Kong, Korea, the UK, the US, Poland, Peru, Guyana and Sweden as well as Japan and Canada (not that anybody particularly cared about nationality) and enjoyed playing and singing Christmas carols and other tunes.
A few days later I came across an op-ed piece in the Vancouver Sun, that said the whole point of Christmas was about passing on to our children they way we used to celebrate it with our own parents. It must be the same for o-sh?gatsu. True enough, it was my mother who liked to invite foreign visitors to Christmas and other festive gatherings, and it was my father who liked to make music on such occasions.
By around 2030, I hear, London’s population will be made up of about equal proportions of various major races, so that the city will no longer have one predominant national culture. Dame Shirley (Goldfinger, Hey Big Spender) Bassey, the 74-year-old doyenne of diva songstresses, recently complained to the media that Britain today is no longer the place she grew up in because “no one speaks English any more.” Some Britons claim that London is already “THE capital city of the world.”
Our Metro Vancouver seems headed in the same direction. Our population already has the highest percentage, around 60%, of new immigrants (i.e. those who speak a language other than English or French at home) of all Canadian cities.
With all the inevitable interaction and mixing between the many races and cultures, traditional festivities like Christmas, one that Canada’s founders brought with them, and o-sh?gatsu, one that Nikkei people as a small minority brought over, are bound to evolve, undergo metamorphoses. Buddhists, Taoists and Muslims joining in on Christmas celebrations? European- and Chinese-Canadian friends dropping in to celebrate together the start of a new year? Why not?—It’s probably no big deal already for many of the readers
In closing, allow me to share with you the best present I received this season—something that money can’t buy. My wife, daughter and I were having lunch in a Japanese restaurant when we noticed a Japanese-speaking family at a nearby table with a cute little girl. Her smiles were so infectious that my daughter waved at her, and she waved back. The next thing we knew, the little one trotted over and handed my daughter something—a tiny octopus she’d folded with a paper napkin. That little present for my daughter made my day.