I sit at one of my three Junior High Schools in Kudamatsu City, Yamaguchi, Japan. This one happens to be the hillside school of Kubo, my furthest commute of the three, all of 25 minutes on a pedal bike – one with three swift gears and a comforting front-end basket. Back home, it would be considered a girlie bike. Here, it is of the norm. I like it.
It is the second Tuesday of December (been in Japan for over four months now!) and my fellow teachers are bustling around the teacher’s office readying the day’s tasks: copiers frantically spitting out paper, sliding doors opening and closing, the vice principal gingerly pacing the room. This is a typical setting for a Japanese Junior High School, as I guess it would be for any Junior High School around the globe.
I have just one class today (3rd period, 8th graders) along with a lunch date with the one of the 7th grade classes. The students eat lunch in their homeroom classes in Japan – cafeterias do not exist in the schools here. I enjoy the 7th graders the best as they are eager to speak English and are always a joyful bunch to share in some lunch with.
This is my first Christmas season away from a country that does not acknowledge Christmas as more than just a Black Friday event. There are lights here and there and most of the people are highly interested in how we celebrate the holiday in the West.
“You must eat turkey with lots of cranberry sauce,” one of my JTE’s (Japanese Teacher of English) exclaims as we go over a brief Christmas lesson with one of my 48 classes.
A fairly accurate stereotype if you ask me. But, my reply is met with a sort of heartbreak – “My family does not eat turkey on Christmas, we eat fish!”
My mind begins to wade through memories of Christmas on my Grandmother’s farm in Hubbard, Minnesota: Candle-lit Christmas Eve church service, dancing around the tree, discovering the nut in a bowl of rice, rolling the perfectly crafted homemade lefse, catching up with family, and sharing in a fellowship found in no other place on Earth. Nostalgic, to say the least.
Christmas on the farm is magical, perhaps even romantic – an ideal setting, even a fireplace crackles amidst the pleasant chatter.
Being across the sea, in a land where the only precipitation in December is rain, I find myself missing my family’s Christmas traditions, the snow, seeing your breath as you shudder to keep warm, starting the car ten minutes before departure – the simple things. However, a welcoming card from my Grandmother reminds me what Christmas is all about. As I read her gentle words, I look out across the Japanese landscape and feel a sense of calm come across me. I can take comfort in knowing that family and friends all over the world will be celebrating Christmas this year. Together. I picture the joy on everyone’s face as they arrive from far-off destinations and greet each other with a heartwarming embrace – stories of turbulent flights, surprise visits, less-than-desirable roads, all followed by a big sigh and a “Gosh, it sure is nice to be home!”
I also think of next year’s Christmas, and how the traditions will carry on, and new ones will begin. How there will be a togetherness like none other, and how stories will continue to be shared.
Merry Christmas Everyone! Love and Peace to you all!
A Christmas Album: