By Sonya Dubinina
Get ready to not have the same experience you are used to during the holidays. In fact, get ready to have time off for things like Golden Week in the end of April and to work until 9pm on American Thanksgiving. You see, they don’t have the same Thanksgiving in many places, and why should they? It’s a holiday for giving thanks for the harvest of the previous year, and it’s largely celebrated on the North American continent. Other countries, such as Liberia and The Netherlands, observe the tradition too but on a smaller scale. We just enjoyed a day off for Japan’s Labor Thanksgiving Day on the 23rd of November, “an occasion for commemorating labor and production and giving one another thanks.” Most of my students struggled to remember which holiday it was anyway, and nobody celebrated in any one particular way. Much like any bank holiday.
Throughout my life I’ve ended up doing various things on American holidays. You see, Russians too don’t celebrate Thanksgiving, and our big winter holiday is The New Years, not Christmas. Christmas is celebrated on the 7th of January (see Julian Calendar vs. Gregorian Calendar), and is very much a religious observance. Some choose to partake in the Orthodox Church’s mass but most are busy curing their New Years hangovers (likely with hair of the dog). My Japanese students were surprised to find this out. Remember communism? That did not allow for religion or religious observances of any kind.
In Japan I hear there are no fireworks on December 31st or January 1st Fireworks are for the summer, silly! The Japanese thoroughly clean their houses before the end of the year much like Americans do in the spring (it’s called oosoji) and go to shrines on the first of the year. Although they are more than happy to deck the halls for the Christmas holiday they do not celebrate because Jesus was never popular over here. It, the decking, starts on the 1st of November too, don’t you fret, lonely gaijin! The Christmas lights, the deals at the mall, the Christmas blend at Starbucks are all amazing! And yes, a thing to do on Christmas day is to go eat chicken at “Kentucky.” Tables get reserved a month in advance. It’s the result of a clever marketing campaign back in 1974.
In the Czech Republic, Christmas is a big deal. I had 2 weeks off last year, and my students took extensive vacations and skied all over Europe and went to many a Christmas market – a tradition that come from years of being under Germany’s rule. Christmas markets are fun if you like crowds, sugary and fatty foods, trinkets, and hot wine. I recommend going at least once! I lived a few tram stops away from St Venceslas Square (one of the main tourist attractions in Prague) and went a couple of times to check out the décor and the bustle.
Last year was my first to be away from the States and consequently my home and friends. Some fellow teachers were going to get together and have an orphan Thanksgiving – do their best to have a family holiday without their families and abroad. I was meant to join them but found out last minute that I’d procrastinated beyond belief on applying for a Czech visa and had to go to Berlin immediately. This involved me hectically booking a ticket for the 4-hour bus ride and a hostel bed. So on Thanksgiving, while fellow American teachers in Prague were enjoying the warmth of their next-best-thing Thanksgiving dinner, I was chewing on a Twix bar on the Student Agency bus chasing it with a can of Gambrinus beer and watching re-runs of the Big Bang Theory. The next day was spent getting harassed by a drunk American boy at the hostel, applying for my visa, and hiding out at a Starbucks deciding on how to best go about seeing the Berlin wall. So I was thankful for the opportunity to see a marvelous city and for my visa application getting accepted a day late.
Christmas was spent at home due to a severe case of strep throat. A friend came over and spent the day with me. We made samosas, watched movies, and talked about life, universe, and everything. And on New Year’s Even Prague exploded in a million fireworks. I got to see the show from a great location – the Swedish embassy. It was nostalgic of the freezing Siberian December 31sts of my childhood when we’d go outside and light our own fireworks as did the rest of our small town. Frosty, bright, loud, and smelling of happiness.
Take care of yourselves no matter where and with who you are.
Happy Holidays, travelers and fellow expats!
Sonya found plenty of castles and a long snowy winter in Prague last year. Frankly, she just didn’t care to reminisce about being snowed in and animal skin-clad for 7 months out of the year, and so here she is – a lizard in the sun, the rising sun of Japan that is. She is now spending her days in Tokyo confused and often lost, mesmerized, and bewildered.