This year marks the second time I’m experiencing the build up to Christmas in Northern Ireland, and it’s interesting to look back and see how Christmas has taken different meanings depending on the country I’m in.
Growing up, my family never really celebrated Christmas. While we would put up a tree when I was a child, I don’t recall us having presents, and the tree itself disappeared before I entered primary school. Christmas didn’t mean the birth of Jesus or the spirit of giving either, as we are not religious, and the Christmas I grew up experiencing through books and TV was a white, winter wonderland – nothing at all like that in the forever-tropical Singapore.
Instead, the season for me came to mean pretty lights along Orchard Road. We would stroll down the shopping belt, admiring the result of malls trying to outdo one another’s decorations, taking pictures and enjoying the slightly cooler December weather. Christmas was an excuse to gather with friends and family to indulge in good food and good company, and the annual gathering at my grandmother’s house soon became the ‘feast before the Lunar New Year’ feast.
In Japan, fellow-JETs used to get sentimental in December, as they spoke about how much they missed Christmas at home and how Japan didn’t have the Christmas atmosphere. I never understood their nostalgia – sure, 25th December is just another working day in Japan, but with Christmas lights on the streets, the annual Illumination festival around Osaka City Hall, the German Christmas Market at Umeda Sky Building and proper winter temperatures, Christmas in Japan never felt more “authentic” to me.
It was only when I came to Belfast that I finally understood. Here, Christmas is in your face. The shops are decked out in festive paraphernalia, Christmas discounts on gift boxes are everywhere, friends and colleagues talk about nothing but gifts, plans and activities for the season – that things shut down for the holidays only serves to drum it in: “It’s Christmas!”.
Merry Christmas everyone!