Although Christmas is celebrated in Japan, it’s not such an important date in the Japanese calendar. It’s not even a public holiday there. It’s often considered more of an event for young people and is especially associated with dating. The real equivalent of Christmas or Yule in Japan is New Year’s Day, or Shōgatsu (usually referred to with an honorific “o,” “O-Shōgatsu”). These days Shōgatsu is celebrated on the same date as the Gregorian New Year, January 1st. Just as Christmas in Britain combines elements from Christianity and the old Pagan symbols of Yule, O-Shōgatsu has both Shinto and Buddhist elements. It’s chiefly a time to say thank you to the kami (deities) for all they have provided in the year, and to pray for their continued blessings.
I’ve always thought there are an awful lot of similarities between Shōgatsu in Japan and Christmas in the West (and particularly in Britain), so I thought I’d explore them here. I believe the parallels suggest that certain motifs are particular important in all religious winter festivals across all cultures and many of them are deeply rooted in Pagan beliefs.