Celebrating Christmas in Japan

Christmas is celebrated all over the world in many different ways. It is that time of the year when people can’t help getting into the spirit of the season. We have made it past the shortest day of the year, and things can only get better!  Common Christmas symbols are wreaths, Christmas trees, candles, stockings, Santa Claus, Christmas carols, and scenes from the nativity. The traditions of sending out Christmas cards, Vespers on Christmas Eve, and the exchange of gifts are activities many people observe. The end of December–Christmas, or Hannukah, or Kwanzaa–is a universal time of holiday that many people look forward to. It surpasses religion and beliefs, bringing many people closer, both friends, and family.

 Christmas decor in Port Nagoya. | Robert Sanzalone 

Christmas in Japan came with the Europeans. Saint Francis Xavier arrived in Japan in 1549 to start missionary work; the first recorded celebration of Christmas was in 1552. It was celebrated with a Mass held by Jesuit missionaries in the Yamaguchi Prefecture. The Edo period brought about the ban of Christianity throughout Japan, but a small group of Japanese Christians known as Kakure Kirishitan (“hidden Christians”) were steadfast in their beliefs.

Aflac during Christmas in Japan. | shibuya246

Christians make up only about two percent of the Japanese population, but mainly due to Western and commercial  influences, Christmas is a popular celebration in Japan. It is not considered a national holiday, but it comes after the birthday of Emperor Akihito on December 23, which is a celebrated national holiday. As many as 54% of the Japanese population follow the tradition of decorating their homes, gift giving, and preparing a special meal during Christmas.


Nabana no Sato.| Deacon MacMillan


A typical Christmas dinner in Japan includes a Christmas cake dessert, usually a sponge cake with white cream frosting, topped with fruits and a chocolate plate that says “Merry Christmas.” Turkey or ham are not popular main dishes in Japan; of all things, KFC fried chicken is a preferred viand. Due to its Christmas popularity, orders for KFC fried chicken are placed at least two months in advance!

KFC’s Colonel Sanders in a Santa suit. | rumpleteaser

Wherever we are in the world, there’s no better way to celebrate the season than being reminded of what Christmas really means, and that may everyday be like Christmas in our hearts.