21 January 2011

Christmas 2011

As an ALT you may very well pick up a weird obsession with food. You can impress both adults and children in Japan with pictures of delicious food. But also, you can have really great conversations with Japanese people about food. There's a general appreciation of food, or even—at a more basic level—an awareness. I know everyone doesn't listen to the lunch time announcements at school, but the lunch menu is read out as you're eating, every day. And often this would have been preceded by someone being genuinely curious about one or another dish and what exactly it is. Someone may even have jumped up to check it on the lunch plan printout on the wall. The announcements also carry extra information on one of the dishes or ingredients for the day.

Add this to many other aspects of Japanese food culture which I could wax lyrical about, and it's not surprising that Japanese people are interested in the food of other countries. And they specifically ask about food that goes with special occasions.

So this was our Christmas table this year. In my family's case there are no hard and fast rules about the Christmas meal. I'd say generally it happens in courses—first (pictured), main, and dessert—and generally it's "special" types of food like fillet steak or roast chicken, and we'll try something interesting with the vegetables, and of course there are many trimmings such as sauces, good cheese, and the like.

The Christmas meal in the West compares much better with Japanese New Year than with Japanese Christmas. Christmas here mostly involves eating some form of fancy cake, often with strawberries on top, and children might get a present. New Year's is much more of a family get-together, specific types of food are served, and children receive otoshidama—new year's money— from their adult relatives.

And this formal new year is in contrast with more informal parties in the West. Or in the South African case where I think 9.9 people out of 10 have a barbeque on New Year's Eve.

Does your country/region/culture/family have specific food for Christmas and/or New Year's?

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