Family / Holiday

Gothidays Day Six!


Good {Insert your time of day}!  Today I am going to talk about my family’s traditions because no one Goths up a Holiday quite like the black sheep of a family!

My father quickly became much more than his Upstate New York Redneck roots when he joined the Air Force.  He went in with the desire to be the man just under the man in charge (IE, the one who really knew how to do things) and to travel.  He wanted out of Laurens, NY and out in a big way.  He married the woman who used to beat him up in Kindergarten and took her to exotic locations.  Already the black sheep for wanting to TRAVEL, they became even blacker when Mom didn’t have a kid until she was in her 30’s.  She wanted to enjoy life and you just know that was frowned upon by both sets of Leave it to Beaver-esque parents.

By the time my brother and I were both on the scene, my parents were older and we were celebrating holidays in Germany.  I remember loving the white lights and listening to Daddy read “The Hobbit” or the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy to us on Christmas Eve.  As we grew older, “Bored of the Rings” became our new favorite (which should give you a solid idea on how “oddly” we were raised.) and continues to this day.  We decorated the tree on Mum’s birthday (December 3rd) and celebrated Christmas on what is traditionally Christmas Eve.  That is the day we had our special meal and exchanged gifts between the family.  Santa filled our stockings on Christmas day, but the real big shindig happened on Christmas Eve.

Once we moved to Japan, Christmas began to pale as a Big Deal in the family.  We still did it, but it was not the main holiday we looked forward to.  My father firmly believed in cultural immersion.  He did not treat the things outside the Base gates as things to view and ooh over (like a zoo), but as, you know, a whole other COUNTRY and CULTURE to learn about.  He is fluent in about 7 languages due to the nature of his job and was not going to let his children become American Air Base house plants.  We went to shrines, talked to Buddhist and Shinto priests, asked tons of questions, and made friends with a local man who got my family involved in many of the religious festivals and parades that went on through the year.  We were part of an unofficial PR team with the few other like-minded AF family’s and that got us a lot of perks.  Like being able to dine in “Japanese Only” restaurants* and meeting people who would have otherwise avoided us like the plague.

Our biggest holiday event since that time has been New Years Eve (書が津 Shogatsu) .  It is not a time to go out.  It is a time to stay home with family and friends who have no family they can get to and ring in the new year.  We watch the annual Kōhaku Uta Gassen (紅白歌合戦) on NHK and other variety shows.  The Kohaku translated literally is the “Red White Song Battle”.  The red team (akagumi) is all female artists or bands fronted by female vocalists and the white team (shirogumi) is all male.  Over the years I have watched many of my favorite Japanese vocalists preform as well as some American, Korean, and European artists.  The practice is to switch back and forth between these shows while snacking and enjoying games that evening until the midnight hour.  Another favorite show to sneak in was Attack on Takeshi Castle, a show that WipeOut is shamelessly copying over here in America.  Since moving back to the States, my family continues to pay premium fees to still have access to NHK.  Without it, it just would not be the same!

We also play Dungeons and Dragons because WE ARE THE NERDIEST BLACK SHEEP EVER.  My father DM’s and we swash buckles and kill dragons.  We play original rules, because that is what my father got started with.  He has all the old books and they have survived pretty well over the decades.  He even has a set of Mom’s old dice that they used to play with in Italy.  The D20s are completely round from being rolled on marble floors.

My mother and father work all day to prepare food for the evening.  There is plenty of beer, sake(rice wine), and sochu(a nutty, earthy tasting sort of whiskey thing).  My parents make special trips to the Asian markets in Albany so they have the freshest ingredients to make sushi and sashimi, as well as buy mochi, a slightly sweet rice cake eaten on New Years.  My father makes plenty of tempura veggies and shrimps to be picked up and snacked on.  Depending on how many people visit, and their comfort level with Japanese food, my mother will also make chicken fried rice and a lemon chicken.  Both of these items are in the Japanese style, which has less oil and sauce than their Chinese counter-parts.

As the midnight hour strikes we ring bells to welcome it in.  Buddhist shrines also ring their bells 108 times, to signify the 108 human sins, and to get rid of the 108 worldly desires of Japanese citizens.

After that, we exchange MORE PRESENTS!  Traditionally, money is given out on January 1st, but my parents have always been against money being a gift.  A gift is something thought out and from your heart, not a check.

Our traditions come not only from family traditions of the past, but traditions of the places we have called home in our lifetimes.  I am happy to have an exceedingly eclectic tradition to share with my husband and my brother’s wife and children and would not have it any other way; even if my Grandparent’s call us the Addams Family in a derogatory manner.  I am thoroughly happy to be this way.

*A note on Japanese only businesses.  Japan is not the most welcoming country for foreigners, but most would never know it from a brief visit.  Being rude and saying “no” are universally frowned upon, and it generally takes years of familiarity to pick up on the body language and subtle verbal hints that cue you are unwanted.  Many businesses have signs in Chinese, English, and Japanese that state “no foreigners” but only turn away those who look American, even if the person in question is a naturalized Japanese citizen.  The signs take away the need for the host/esses to have to say it themselves.  This is technically illegal according to earlier treaties about racial discrimination, but many officials (including those from the recent elections) uphold these businesses customs.

My father happened to make friends with a prominent businessman which allowed us a bit of a respite from such racism.  My brother’s and my language skills (I was conversationally fluent in Japanese when I left the country) further greased the wheels and our ages perhaps shielded us from any racist attitudes we may have encountered as well.  We simply didn’t see it.

I take a lot of my beliefs and traditions from Japan because that was my home.  I have been accused of cultural appropriation but then, so have many pagans who practice Native American traditions.  All I can say in closing is that my beliefs are firmly held, even though my blood may be “wrong”.  I hope you enjoyed a glimpse of my family’s life during this holiday!

3 thoughts on “Gothidays Day Six!

  1. YAY FOR BLACK SHEEP AND D&D!!! Oh honey, this is so beautiful! Thank you so much for sharing. I read Ed the part about your Dad GMing and he let out a “YESSSSS!” hehehe … he’s a HUGE gamer and love it when parents expose their kids to gaming. We’re playing Pathfinding right now with a close friend of ours and his young kids because he wanted them to have good, solid first real gaming experience. So much fun!

    MUCH love to you, my fellow Black Sheep!

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