A different way of celebrating Christmas in Japan

by Melvin Jabar, Contributor

Posted at Jan 26 2010 05:14 PM | Updated as of Jan 27 2010 01:14 AM

Members and friends of Kaagapay in one of their caroling activities in Japan/Photo courtesy of Melvin Jabar

Christmas is obviously different here in Japan. For me being a Catholic and a Filipino at that, I felt that Christmas here is like a bitter sweet cake lacking the necessary ingredient.

Although we still felt Christmas because of the glitters, the music, and the snow, there was still the longing for something invisible, something we cannot see but feel. That is why, being based overseas, there is always the longing to go back home during the yuletide season. Our snowman replicas in the Philippines are artificial but our Christmas surely is not. It is more than physical because it goes beyond the spirit, the spirit of giving, merry making, and sharing.

We may be miles away, but this did not stop us to go the extra mile. We realized that celebrating Christmas is not about the place but the reason. We are far from our loved ones, but that is no reason for us not to celebrate Christmas.

Christmas the Filipino way

To celebrate Christmas the Filipino way, members and friends of the Kaagapay Catholic Community in Oita City, Japan decided to visit the Japanese-Filipino homes from December 13 to 25, 2009 to render them Christmas carols.  

In the words of Confucius, music produces a kind of pleasure which human nature cannot do without. Through our carols, we hoped that we brought the true spirit and the pleasure of Christmas from our hearts to the hearts of the Japanese-Filipino families here in Japan.

More than making them happier through our songs, we thought that by rendering Christmas carols, we are able to show the Japanese how we celebrate Christmas back home.

The objective of the said caroling was really for our group to give chance to the Filipinos based in our region to rekindle the Filipino way of celebrating Christmas in a home away from home. We also wanted to share our Christmas culture to the Japanese husbands married to our Filipino sisters so that they may also understand how we celebrate the season.

Classic Christmas carols

Despite the cold winter days and the fear that Japanese neighbors might complain because of the noise of our tinkling bells, we visited the homes of our Filipino friends and their families and sang classical Christmas songs like Jingle Bells, Silver Bells, Hark the Herald Angels Sing, among others.

Although we struggled reaching the not-so-friendly notes in a not-so-friendly weather, we were still able to manage to give justice to the carols. And more importantly, we saw happiness through the eyes of those we visited.

Some of the Japanese husbands were honored and touched by our presence despite the distance and the cold weather. Most of them prepared food for us and a few others gave their impromptu speeches thanking us for the effort that we have done to make their Filipino wives happy despite being far from home during Christmas.

Through our caroling, the Japanese husbands were able to appreciate the way we celebrate the season which is about happiness and sharing. Longing for the Filipino way of Christmas celebration for years, some of the Filipinas were quite emotional hearing our Christmas carols.

Give love on Christmas Day

The joy of giving is the reward itself. Through our caroling, we not only brought the Filipino Christmas culture to their homes, but we also gave the Filipino-Japanese families here the chance to exercise charity and to share something to the less fortunate. Through our visit, we were able to give them the joy--of giving and of merry making.

The main purpose of our caroling is to raise funds for our group’s charity work. Proceeds of the event will be used to purchase school supplies and needs for our indigent and less fortunate elementary school children in the Philippines. Our group has yet to decide which communities will be given the donations.

Members of the Kaagapay ensembles who attended the caroling activities were Susan Goto, Grace Kudo, Emily Abe, Kana Kawazu, Vivian Eto, Mary Jane Nara, Mary Kawakami, Fely Yuki, Araceli Abe, Imelda Yamamuro, Fe Watanabe, Madoka and Jimmy Toledo, Nena Sato, Annie Katsuragi, and Miki Shuto.

(Editor’s Note: The author is a PhD student at the College of Asia Pacific Studies at Ritsumeikan Asia Pacific University in Beppu City, Japan)