Here it’s Christmas; Elsewhere New Year holiday is event of the year |

Here it’s Christmas; Elsewhere New Year holiday is event of the year

Sarah Gonser

Many people don’t celebrate Christmas. They’re not misers or grinches, it’s just not part of their religion.

Christmas is the Christian celebration of the birth of Christ. Although most of the Western world observes the holiday, many people of different faiths choose not to. Instead they focus on other times of the year to celebrate, such as New Year’s Eve.

Sanae Iijima is one of those people. She is a Japanese Buddhist and was raised to believe Christmas was for Westerners and Christians. Her parents and family never observed the holiday when she was growing up in Ibaraki, north of Tokyo.

“In Japan you just don’t celebrate Christmas,” Iijima said. “Sometimes young people have a party at a disco, or the really young kids get a cake, but it’s not anything special for us.”

In fact, she said, locating a pine tree and Christmas lights would be a very challenging ordeal. Japanese stores just don’t carry that type of merchandise.

“Our special time is New Year’s Eve. All the family members come to town, like during American Thanksgiving,” Iijima said. “We go to temple and then have a great big meal with rice cakes, chicken, seafood and buckwheat noodles.”

Iijima was born in Argentina and grew up in Japan. She lived in San Francisco for several years before moving to South Lake Tahoe four years ago to snowboard. Since coming to the United States she has acquired excellent language skills and has slowly begun, like many other Japanese families, to observe some American customs.

“The Japanese families I know here enjoy Christmas, but not like the Europeans and Americans,” Iijima said. “Now we’ll go to someone’s family Christmas dinner party, but it’s no big deal.”

But even if they have begun to pick up American traditions, many Japanese living in the United States are not ready to relinquish their roots anytime soon.

Shuji Sambu, also known as Sam, is the owner of Sato Japanese Restaurant. He celebrates Christmas with his children because, he said, they were born and raised in South Lake Tahoe and have never lived in Japan. But it clearly remains a Western tradition in the Sambu family.

“We copy the holiday customs, but not the spirit,” Shuji said. “In our hearts we are Buddhist and will always be so.”

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