Merry Christmas! Rambles on Lessons in Faith and Spending Christmas in Japan

Holiday Greetings from Tokyo, Japan on the afternoon of the day after Christmas Day!

Today is Wednesday, the day after Christmas Day. I sit in my friend’s apartment where I’ve been staying since earlier this month, catching up on Christmas movies that I didn’t watch yesterday or on Christmas Eve.  Those movies specifically were “Home Alone” and “Elf,” two of my favorite Holiday films of all time. I realized as I watched both of them back-to-back that my reason for loving them is because they tell the story of “belief.” The idea that belief can create what you want by staunchly believing in who you are, which is formed in your youth (not your adulthood) is an idea scoffed at by many. We all believe that as we get older, we get wiser and better. And I agree with this idea completely. I mean, I am someone who has enjoyed the wisdom and advantages of age, but there is at least one instance a day where I regress to my youth. Where I dance on trains and street corners (I used to dress up in a tutu as a child and dance to Madonna songs in our living room), or I lay on the floor and doodle, or I find something worth giggling about.  I try to have these moments when I feel myself caught up in anger or anxiety. In fact, I look for ways to find that magic of belief that every child has and is most prevalent on Christmas Day.

This morning after waking up and missing the train to Mt. Fuji again, I decided to sleep in and then watch two Christmas movies. Two days ago on Christmas Eve, I spent the afternoon relaxing and getting ready and buying myself a present (it’s so purty!) and then I dashed off to meet up with a new friend who invited me to her house to have dinner with her and her husband on Christmas Eve so I wouldn’t be alone. We had a great time, talking, swapping book and music recommendations, and watching Australian and American comedy skits on Youtube. (I’ll be attending a New Year’s party at their house on January 1st that I’m super excited about!) After I left their home, I went to the 10:30pm (aka Midnight Mass) at the local Catholic Church in Tokyo, St. Ignatius.

The Mass was incredibly quick it seemed, but it brought me to tears. Maybe because I’ve spent the past two months praying to every deity possible? I don’t know. What I do know is that for the first time since leaving NYC, I felt the pull and the true meaning of Christmas.

See, Christmas pasts have always been a fun and stressful period for me. They’ve been fun because I can decorate and buy presents, but last year for the first time, I felt rather blah about the holiday. I’ve felt shopping is too painful and daunting. I’ve felt a bit like Charlie Brown- knowing the meaning of Christmas, but not feeling the meaning in the greater world. In an attempt to find happiness and joy again, I’ve given more to charity and to my 10-year-old nephew.   This year because I’m away, the idea of giving presents wasn’t an option. I would have had to mail them and lets be honest mailing boxes to the US from Japan is expensive (I shipped a box before I left Echizen with some books and paper, tons of paper and it cost me about $100.), not to mention, I didn’t know what to get them. I mean do they really need anything from Japan?

For me it was more important to connect with loved ones and new friends rather than focus on gifts. Christmas Eve night here, and Christmas Eve morning in the US, I spoke to my cousin for an hour, I think. While we talked about Christmas and presents for her children, we talked a lot about my spiritual journey here in Tokyo. We talked about how I may not feel in the Christmas spirit, I have connected spiritually in other ways.  Which I think is why I cried that night at Christmas Mass because all the spiritual connections led me to the door of the greatest belief in all, that Jesus was born to redeem us.

Yesterday, Christmas Day, I stayed mostly inside and talked to another cousin in New York for a few hours thanks to Google hangouts until I went to dinner at an Ethiopian Restaurant that was recommended to me by my old boss. This was my second time eating there not only because the food is delicious, but because the owners are amazing. I sat down for dinner at around 7pm and didn’t leave until 11:45 to catch the trains before they stopped running. My evening involved Christmas carols, whiskey on the rocks, and a lengthy conversation about the Black Movement, Africa, Ethiopia, America, gun control, violence, crazy people, race relations, injustice, money, the Japanese culture, papermaking, mixed-race people, my family, his family, music, how he knows our mutual friend, New York City, city living, driving cars, and traveling. It was the perfect way to spend a holiday that isn’t cared about in Japan.

Christmas in Japan is a commercial holiday. The stores are all decked out with trees and lights. Tokyo and many other large Cities in Japan decorate like crazy-large light displays. People rush all around shopping and the stores are crowded beyond capacity. And yet, it all means nothing. The night of Christmas Eve couples go out for a romantic dinner together. Christmas Day is a work day. The day after Christmas, today, everything is gone..the lights, the trees giving way to sales and New Year decorations. In Asia, there is more of a care for the New Year. On New Year’s Day, I will make my way to the Shinto Shrine close to my friend’s apartment and pray for good blessings for the new year.

I don’t want to get too spiritual here (even though, I am), but today as I watched these movies and sat in a state of continued uncertainty and wonder about a situation while trying to pushing down my impatience and need to fix things, I was enlightened.

See, I remember when Home Alone came out in 1990. My aunt and her boyfriend, now husband, took my brother and I to see the movie and we loved it. In all the years that I’ve watched the movie, I’ve always laughed at the antics and felt warm and fuzzy at the message of love and family. However, it wasn’t until today that I watched it and really listened to the dialogue and I felt like there was a reason that I picked the movie and watched it today. The scene toward the end, where Kevin and Old Man Marley talk about family relationships and they have the following exchange:

“Kevin: If you miss him, why don’t you call him?
Old Man Marley: I’m afraid if I call him he won’t talk to me.
K:How do you know?
OMM:I don’t know, I’m just afraid he won’t.
K:No offense, but aren’t you a little old to be afraid?
OMM:You can be a little old for a lot of things, but you’re never too old to be afraid…
(Talk about Kevin’s fear of the basement)
K:…my point is, you should call your son.
OMM:What if he won’t talk to me?
K:Least you’ll know, then you can stop worrying about it and you won’t have to be afraid anymore…”

I needed those words now more than ever. But more importantly, the simplicity of the message got me. The idea that a child, whom no one ever believes could be wise is wise enough to help set the course of action for an older and wiser man ground me to the core.

The same is true of “Elf.” Again, I remember seeing “Elf” like it was yesterday. I was living in Virgina then and my aunt and her husband (the same ones who took me to see “Home Alone” 13 years prior) asked me to watch their son, my cousin, over the weekend. I, along with one of my best friends, took him to see “Elf” and we loved it. I own the movie and make it a habit to watch it during the Christmas season, especially when I’m stressed out -usually as I write out Christmas cards at the last minute.

The film just has a way of making me feel warm and fuzzy. Today as I watched it, I laughed loudly, exclaimed that Will Ferrell is a nut, spoke along to the lines I could remember and at the end, sang along to “Santa Claus is Coming to Town.” It should not be a surprise that I cried at the end while singing along to the song. Why did I cry? Because of the message of belief. Obviously!

What I love about “Elf” is that you have this strange guy, with child-like abandonment, walking around NYC in tights, believing that he’s an elf and manages to save the holiday from what it has become…an over-commercialized and cynical day. While many laugh and try to change him, his own father included, he manages to remain strong and keep believing in what he knows, all the while being one of the most open and caring individuals around.

What’s more though is that in both films, you have the idea that with a lot of belief, a dash of child-like simplicity, the ability to love, and a strong will to accept who you are, you can and will change things…examples include:

  • you can will your family to disappear and then reappear;
  • you can get over your fears and move beyond them;
  • when you begin to see your wrong doings and start to forgive you can move beyond issues;
  • saying sorry can fix many broken things including hurt feelings;
  • love makes things possible and better;
  • being true to your different and quirky self will lead you to the right path;
  • Santa Claus (the idea of good will and openness) does believe, if you believe.
  • You can inspire others to believe as long as you believe and keep believing
  • Miracles are possible.

Today, as I celebrated what was the remaining hours of Christmas Day on the East Coast of America, I watched these movies, made plans for the upcoming weekend and sat around in my favorite Christmas pants (candy cane red and white stripes) while in essence being a child. I delighted in my bowl of Chocolate Rice Krispies cereal for breakfast and in the messages I learned from watching these films. They all brought me back to the one reoccurring theme of my travels these past two-and-a-half-months- signs are everywhere – but not because you’re looking for them. In fact, I believe that if you are looking for signs, they won’t appear, but if you’re moving forward, even with a heavy heart and a sense of uncertainty, the signs will find you and show themselves accordingly.

I believe that I had to spend Christmas alone this year to truly understand and appreciate not just myself being alone, but the spiritual factor of the holiday. I also believe that I had to watch these movies today, after the Christmas festivities to remember to stay strong, feel the magic, believe in who I am and in the road I’ve traveled. Things are only going to get better, even if something is missing and I’m uncertain; as long as I keep believing in the stars and spirits above and the heart inside my chest, things will be better.

That faith and belief will allow me to keep providing the best gifts I can to the ones I love the most, and even those who I have yet to meet, know, and love. Further proof of that can be seen (below) in the electronic Holiday/Christmas card I sent out to my friends, family, and fans of my stationery company last week.

The Official 2012 S2 Stationery and Design Christmas Card
The Official 2012 S2 Stationery and Design Christmas Card

In the picture is me and my “papermaking family” from Echizen on my last day at the Museum where I studied. It is one of my favorite pictures and I think captures my joy and love for the people who kindly opened their hearts to me for 45 days this fall.

It takes a lot of self-belief to step out into the world where you don’t know anyone, or speak a certain language and tackle a challenging task. It’s like being left Home Alone, or realizing you’re not an Elf, but a human in a world that lacks imagination and is cruel to those who are different.  Yet, still stepping out and having that belief can move mountains and change the status quo and is worth every minute.

That’s my Christmas lesson this year. It is what I’m most appreciative for this year that is coming to a close. Merry day after Christmas! I hope your day was filled with love, kindness, and all the warm, squishy, great stuff.

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s2 stationery & designs

A rule-breaking designer, artist & entrepreneur who's passionate about paper and handcrafting stationery. I also write, travel, and focus on eco + social good.

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