TOKYO, Japan — Donnon Murray, OFM, who ministers at the Franciscan Chapel Center here, wrote to HNP Today with Christmas greetings and to share how Jesus’ birth is celebrated in Japan.
While Japan isn’t a predominately Christian country, the people have found a way to maximize on the secular and commercial aspect of the holiday, he said.
“It comes as a surprise to some that in the thoroughly non-Christian country of Japan there should be any recognition whatsoever of Christmas. But the fact is that the Japanese are very adept at utilizing anything not native to Japan that is at all capable of producing financial gain,” Donnon wrote, and “Christmas stands at the top of that list.”
Capitalizing on the commercialism of Christmas means that Japanese businesses put up trees, play holiday music and set up light displays and decorations.
Not really having a clue about the true meaning of Christmas, the Japanese people wonder why Christians don’t decorate churches until just before Christmas, and do not dismantle them until after the feast of Epiphany, according to Donnon.
The friars try to make the holidays as meaningful as possible to the community, without much thought or even time to think about personal celebration, said Donnon, who has been in Japan since 1958. “However, the celebration of the Eucharist, and partaking of it, does have a special meaning on Christmas Day. That is, after all, what it is all about.”
The missionary friars miss the U.S. celebrations and traditions, he added, especially the Christmas turkey and all the trimmings. “But here on Christmas Day, we could very well have a bowl of canned soup.”
They get into the holiday spirit with monthly block gatherings in Tokyo, and the January meeting includes a traditional celebration of Christmas and New Year’s Day. “In ordinary society in Japan, Christmas is party time and New Year’s is a quiet time for family — quite the opposite of the United States,” writes Donnon, who marked his 50th anniversary as a priest in 2006. “This common celebration by all the friars is one of conviviality and plentiful food.”
The friars also sponsor a party for children who are abandoned or whose families can’t afford them. Donnon writes, who live at a facility started by the Salesian Sisters after the war.
“With the money generously donated by the members of the Chapel Center that is left over after buying food and gifts for the children, the friars purchase clothing and furnishings for those who will soon live on their own after graduating from high school.”
The photo above shows the annual Christmas party for children living in a Catholic facility for abused or abandoned children.
— Wendy Healy, a freelance writer in Connecticut, is a frequent contributor to HNP Today.