9th - Christmas in Japan
For some people, the church can be a bit like a Tardis: it’s much bigger on the inside than it appears to be from the outside. We know our particular church building, squeezed between York Road and Mount Hermon Road in Woking, is a bit like that. It’s almost invisible from the road but, for those who step inside, there is a whole community which comes together, worships together, supports each other and serves our wider community.
In this series for Advent we want to open some windows so everyone can see a bit more of who we are and what goes on in a church like ours.
At first it was hard for me to pin down what's different about Christmas in Japan. On the surface it looks much the same – lots of Santas, snacks, trees, tinsel. Lots of commercialism and temptation to spend money! There's precious little 'real Christmas' in the public sphere
even in the UK these days, after all.
But it dawned on me after a while. There's a sense 'out there' in the UK even among the totally unchurched that Christmas means something – goodwill and charity, family, a sense of warmth in the heart – that just isn't to be found here in society at large. There's no special feeling to Christmas Day itself – trains and buses run as usual, people go to work as usual. Christmas trees come down at the end of Christmas Eve, giving their place to the much more meaningful and special festival of New Year. Christmas here doesn't come with the air of magic that I grew up with in England.
At first, I lamented that loss, along with missing the special Christmas things that are hard to get here – cherries for cakes, parsnips – maybe not so much the sprouts! – and of course the separation from family.
But then it made me reflect – how much of my celebration at Christmas has been nothing but that padding – the wrapping paper on the real present at Christmas? It's not just the busyness of Christmas that can smother its real meaning, I discovered. My Christmas had acquired a lot of wrapping paper – being in Japan has helped to strip that off and remember the real joy of Christmas, that God so loved the world that the Word became flesh, dwelt among us, died to save us. That is the real celebration!
Mike Jeggo lives and works in Japan with his family and is one of St Mary of Bethany’s Mission Partners, currently serving with Overseas Missionary Fellowship.