New Year’s and Christmas Day in Japan and NZ

If you ask Japanese people how they spend New Year’s Day, you would probably find it similar to how people spend Christmas Day in other countries.

New Year’s Day in Japan

Traditionally, relatives gather in the home of the head of the family. (Usually, the oldest son takes over as the head of the family from his father, although this tradition isn’t crucial for modern families nowadays.)

Of course, there is some traditional Japanese food for the New Year’s gathering, which is made to last for a long time since all shops are closed. It is called お節料理 (おせちりょうり/Osechi ryo ri). Family members enjoy the meal and a particular type of sake called お屠蘇 (おとそ/Otoso). Otoso used to be made from certain medical herbs to wish our health during the year.

Since it is difficult for ordinary people to follow the recipe, my family have regular sake or whatever we want to have and call it Otoso. Also, we order beautiful Osechi ryo ri from our family favorite restaurant in recent years.

Traditional Japanese food for the New Year's gathering
Traditional Japanese food for the New Year's gathering
Traditional Japanese food for the New Year's gathering
01.01.2022 Restaurant 目白・南雲

Christmas Day in New Zealand

Christmas tree surrounded by a lot of Christmas gifts
25.12.2015 Auckland, New Zealand

In terms of cultural importance, I guess New Year’s Day for us is pretty similar to Christmas Day overseas. I spent a few years in New Zealand, and Christmas Day seemed very important, even for people who were not religious. I was invited to my homestay family’s Christmas party, and what I saw was the same scene as I imagined about Christmas from movies or books. 
Not only did the adults prepare gifts for the children, but the children also prepared gifts for their parents, aunts and uncles, and grandparents. I was surprised because, in Japan, it is normal for adults to give gifts to children. Family members exchanged gifts once the gifts were placed under the big Christmas tree and after the big warm family meal. The gifts may not have been expensive, but watching the exchange they had prepared for that person almost brought tears to my eyes. My host mother and her sister had even prepared a present for me a few days after we met. I had not prepared anything and gave them a simple gift in return later.

New Year’s Day in NZ

However, I felt that New Year’s Day in New Zealand was not so special.
At the moment of the New Year, some cities have events and fireworks. Rather than family gatherings, most people spend the day relaxing at home or at tourist attractions.
New Year’s Day is a national holiday, and many retail stores, restaurants, and cafes are closed. Some stores in cities and tourist areas are open, but be aware that some private stores may have a Closed sign hanging when you go there. Many small towns and communities close for several days, including January 1st.

Christmas Day in Japan

When I think of Christmas in Japan, children get presents from Santa Claus, but I also feel that it is an event for couples, which is commercialised and marketed for businesses. Shopping areas and restaurants get busy, and those places try to create a more romantic atmosphere. I personally avoid the crowds on Christmas Day because it is crowded everywhere I go, and I am not sure what the day is for.
This is definitely an excuse of a person who is alone every year on that day, especially since I have no plans other than working because Christmas is not a public holiday in Japan.

Anyway, my New Year’s holidays are 寝正月 (ねしょうがつ/Ne sho gatu), which means I spent the New Year’s holidays taking a good rest at home, eating and drinking a lot without going out anywhere. The pandemic was a good excuse for me to be lazy at home.

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