Only when Japan became an industrialized society and post the World Wars when they were exposed to the American lifestyle, did the Japanese develop an interest in the spirit of Christmas. This was more so because they were manufacturing Christmas trinkets and decoration items for other countries, where Christmas is the most important festival.
So the festival of cheer and charitable spirit is celebrated as a secular holiday, solely devoted to the love of children - to give them gifts, buy them goodies and have a family day of celebrating happiness and outing.
Japanese Christmas Traditions
Small toys, dolls (lovely little toys that the Japanese are so good at making), miniature candles, paper ornaments, gold paper fans and lanterns, wind chimes...the list of decorations runs endless with people as creative and artistic as the Japanese.
A very special decoration during Christmas is the origami swan, the little bird made of folded paper that little children so love to make. The swan, called the 'bird of peace', has the heart-warming distinction of the toy exchanged by young people all over the world, as a pledge that war must not happen again.
All the people across the world should live in peace and harmony, if not for anything else, for the future generations to inherit a happier earth. The thought is so lovely and so in-keeping with the spirit of Christmas, and Japan is probably the only country that actually puts an ancient spirit of goodwill in a modern context.
Businesses also send out Oseibo (the end of the year gift) to other businesses, usually to return an earlier favor or to strengthen existing business ties. The gift may be very expensive, or something more easy, like beer, fruit, hams, coffee and so on.
Japanese Christmas Beliefs
Santa Claus is called "Santa Kurohsu" by the Japanese children. The benevolent God from the Japanese pantheon, who brings deserving children the gifts, is Hoteiosho and he is believed to have eyes at the back of his head to watch the children all year round...sorting out those who deserve gifts from those who do not.
After Christmas is over, on December 26th, the decorations meant for Christmas are taken down and the country gears up for another holiday, the New Year's Eve. This is the day when almost every home in Japan is thoroughly cleaned and every adult and child dresses in their finest clothes to welcome the New Year with a smile.
The decorations for the New Year celebrations are no less elaborate, usually made of bamboo and pine. The front entrance of homes is decorated with kadomatsu, the gate pine, to emphasize new beginnings. The beginnings that start with New Year's Eve on December 31st, continue till January 3, well into the New Year.