Sunday, December 29, 2019

Christmas in Atlanta ... and Japan

A tall decorated pine tree atop a department store has been a holiday tradition in Atlanta.  It started in 1948 on the downtown Atlanta store of Rich's Department Store.  It was a large 70 to 90 feet tall (21-27 m) decorated white pine that was named Rich's Great Tree.  Rich's was sold to Macy's and now a Great Tree sits on their store at the Lenox Mall off Peachtree Road in Atlanta.

The lightning of the Great Tree starts the Christmas and Holidays celebrations in Atlanta.  This year the 72nd annual Great Tree Lighting event was on 24 November, 2019, and featured live musical performances with a fireworks finale set to favorite music.  There were more than 45,000 multi-colored lights on 490 branches of the tree, with a big red LED lighted star on top.  There are many holiday light displays in and around Atlanta: Atlantic Station, Atlanta Botanical Gardens, Christmas Lights at Callanwolde (former home of one of the original founders of the Coca-Cola Company,) Light Festival at Centennial Olympic Park, Mountain Country Christmas Lights at the Stone Mountain Park, Lights of Life at the Life Chiropractic College in Marietta.  There are more places and neighborhoods with twinkling lights.  Below are some (courtesy the AJC.)  (Click on collage to enlarge.)

I was in Georgia for about nine days, driving back to Nashville on December 21, 2019.  To get into the Atlanta holiday spirit I drove to Lenox Mall where I had not been in several years.  I used to work across this mall in the early 1980s and it would take me half hour from my home in Cobb County during morning and afternoon rush hours.  This time, mid morning, it took me 1 hour 10 minutes!  Still, as the sign said I was glad to be back in Georgia.  I enjoyed walking and watching the decorated shops, the shoppers and the benches to rest my feet ... I took several pictures of a grassy reindeer before sitting next to him ... but he never spoke to me -:)

Since I was close to the Neiman Marcus store I went into it to admire their Christmas decorations which are always beautiful.  First I stopped at the counter of Maison Francis Kurkdjian perfumes, mostly because of its Armenian name.  Two gentlemen there told me that Francis Kurkdjian was a French Armenian perfumer of repute who had created many famous perfumes.  They sprayed my wrist with a sample that did smell wonderful.  I forgot its name though when they told me that the 2 ounce bottle costs $345! I thought it was safer to admire Christmas decorations ...

There were several lovely ornaments with the Neiman Marcus name.  I was tempted to buy one but since they started at $50 each I passed as I don't have a tree this year anyway.

After walking all around and up and down Neiman Marcus I walked outside and sat on a leather bench facing the store where I talked to someone this time.

A couple was standing nearby.  The lady went inside the store and the man came and sat next to me.  We started talking.  He told me he was a Japanese business man visiting Atlanta and had brought his wife to do some Christmas shopping.  He added that Christmas was big in Japan.  I was surprised as I thought Japan was mostly Buddhist.  Yes he said, we are 99% Buddhist but we all celebrate Christmas.  He added we don't celebrate it for the birth of Jesus Christ or any other religious reasons; we celebrate the mythical Santa Claus that we call Santa-san ((サンタさん .)  He said they also have a Japanese equivalent of Santa Claus.  It is Hoteiosho, a Buddhist monk who gives presents to well behaved children on Christmas morning.  (Later I found pictures.)

He explained that the Japanese love public lights at Christmas time that they call "Illuminations."  Most major cities, hotels, shops, malls, etc., display these incredible lights.  Osaka he said has major light exhibits that people come from afar to enjoy.

Another thing, he added, that would surprise me is that the big Christmas dinner in Japan is traditionally a KFC (Kentucky Fried Chicken) dinner!  Later, on a French site I found out that in the 1970s when western expats were trying to find chicken or turkey in Japan for the holidays they could only find chicken in the KFC fast food restaurants.  KFC jumped on that and had a huge and aggressive (and rewarding) marketing campaign.  In 2017 the KFC chains sold, between December 23 and 25, 6 billion of yens in chickens (49 million Euros or approx 55 million dollars.)  Close to 4 million Japanese families get their holiday meal from KFC and have to order it months in advance or have to stand in queues for hours, the rest do go to the KFC fast food restaurants to eat.  Some people even think that Colonel Sanders is Santa Claus (pronounced as Santa Kuroosu ((サンタクロース  ) in Japanese.)

The other cultural difference is that Christmas Eve is considered the most romantic night of the year - like St. Valentine Day in western countries.  Couples start making plans months in advance to throw a party or go out to fancy restaurants and nightclubs that are solidly booked.  Hotels are booked as well and stores sell lovers' Christmas gifts while shops have displays of romantic items.

Another interesting fact he added that his American friends find unusual is that for the Japanese traditional Christmas music is not listening to Christmas carols, no, it is to listen to the "daiku."  The daiku I asked?  Yes, it means number nine he replied, we love Beethoven's Ninth Symphony.  But he could not explain anymore as his wife was exiting Neiman Marcus with a shopping bag.  I said good-bye to him and he replied "Merii Kurisumasu" (Merry Christmas in Japanese.)

It certainly had been a fascinating conversation.  But I still had some shopping to do.  I drove back to Nashville at the end of that week and spent Christmas at my youngest daughter's home.  There was a beautiful Christmas tree there with many ornaments and gifts.  The two au pairs, one Chinese the other French, enjoyed their new Nashville Predators' sweatshirts (the Predators are the professional ice hockey team based in Nashville.)

For this post I read more on the Japanese Christmas.  I found out that during World War I, the first performance of Beethoven's Ninth was played by Germans held as prisoners at the Bando POW camp in Tokushima.  The Japanese loved this piece of music and it has become a holiday hit.  Japan goes crazy for the final movement of the symphony "Ode to Joy."  In 2018 Beethoven's Ninth was performed more frequently in Japan than anywhere else in the world.  It received more than 170 performances in Tokyo alone.  The last two weeks of December, Suntory Hall presented 11 sold-out performances and Yomiuri Nippon Hall seven.  It is so beloved by the Japanese that they sing it in choirs (even in German) all around the country.  The Osaka choir called "The Number Nine Chorus" comprises close to 10,000 members who perform it every year.  I found one performance on YouTube.

Many people in the US might complain that is is not right for the Japanese to celebrate Christmas in a non-Christian way.  Well, millions of people in the West celebrate Christmas in a non-religious way as well; they see it as a more cultural event than a religious one.  It is really a winter festival that predates many faiths.  It is about family, friendship, charity, gift giving, kindness, happiness and joy.  Why can't it be shared?  We share the earth, the sea, the rivers and mountains, the trees and wild animals, the sky, sun and stars, even a sunset (such as the one below on Christmas Day from my daughter's window,) so why can't we share a holiday if it makes everyone happy?  It does not take away from those who celebrate it in a religious manner.  We should all be able to share the Yuletide for peace and goodwill to all.

And since we are just a few days to the end of the year, I wish each of you a Happy and Prosperous New Year!


Elephant's Child said...

I always appreciate your fascinating (and often educational) posts. I also appreciate the work you put into them. Many, many thanks.
As an aside 'Kentucky Fried Chicken' as a treat? Shudder.
The very best to you for a health and happy New Year.

Christine said...

VERY interesting post....thank you
Wishing you good health and safe travels in 2020

Starting Over, Accepting Changes - Maybe said...

One of the loveliest things about the season are the lights. The beauty of so many colors is always outstanding.

I enjoyed your conversation with the stranger. It is fun to learn other’s culture and traditions. How funny to find out about KFC being the dish everyone wants to eat at Christmas.

Your daughter’s home and tree are beautiful.

DJan said...

This was a wonderful and uplifting post, VB. I didn't know all that about how much the Japanese love Beethoven's Ninth and... KFC! Your pictures of lights are amazing, and now I have learned a great deal about how another culture celebrates the season. Thank you, and much, much love sent your way. Happy New Year to come! :-)

Divers and Sundry said...

What a wonderful tradition, and how nice that Macy's maintains it. I've heard that Atlanta traffic is horrendous! I enjoy the store and mall decorations and enjoy your photos. Our malls aren't as festively decorated as they used to be. That's a fascinating description of how they observe Christmas in Japan. Isn't it interesting what you can learn when you strike up a conversation with a stranger! Sweet! I like your encouragement of peace and joy across religious/non-religious observances of seasonal celebrations.

Happy New Year!

Jeanie said...

I hope your Christmas was great -- I'm late catching up to it all! Atlanta sure knows how to do Christmas well and brightly! I love all the lights and the history you shared. The Japanese info was especially interesting because it contradicts what my friends who live in Japan say. They say Christmas isn't a holiday there and it's not acknowledged with the same festivity as here. That people don't get the day off work if it's on a weekday, although some ex-pats will celebrate or some Japanese who have spent more time in Western Europe or the U.S. So reading this makes we want to touch base with them about that. Or it could be regional. They are all in prefectures outside of the Tokyo area where it is smaller. Decent cities but not major ones. Now I'm curious!

I forgot that you go to Atlanta and I want to be sure to tell you about an exhibit that is there till Jan. 12 or 20 (check this link -- I saw it here in August and it was one of the most remarkable exhibits I'd seen. I featured it in two posts which are on my recent post about my favorite posts of the year. I hope you'll have time to check it out. I think you'd like it.

Here's to a very happy new year. You've had a rough one with a lot of back and forth and the knee and I hope 2020 only brings you good things!

Arti said...

What an interesting and informative post, VB, as always! I visited Japan years ago and did see that Colonel Sanders standing outside a KFC. As for the 10,000 men choir singing Beethoven's Ninth is just amazing. I'll take this opportunity to wish you all Best Wishes for a Happy 2020! Let's continue our mutual blog visits into the next Decade. :)

Mae Travels said...

Your Japanese cultural history and description are fascinating. The only other thing I know is that they have a "Christmas cake" -- "a type of sponge cake, covered with snow-white whipped cream and topped with perfectly shaped, ruby red strawberries." The cakes are considered past their prime after Dec. 25, which inspires the derogatory use of the term "Christmas cake" to refer to an unmarried woman past some age when she should have been married. (I found this info online at an NPR story from 2014 and elsewhere.)

I hope you enjoy the rest of the holidays and have a great New Year.

best... mae at

Nadezda said...

Dear Vagabonde,
I've read your interesting post and knew about Japanese traditions. Very unusual. I liked they enjoy Beethoven music.
Happy new 2020 year! It's a wonderful digit, I hope it brings you and your family much happiness and health.

Marie-Anne said...

Thank you for this very informative post about the Christmas celebrations in Japan. Looking on the TV the illuminations of the 1st January all over the world, we were precisely discussing this with my husband.
May I wish you a very happy new year, dear Vagabonde, full of good health and joy for you and your beloved ones!

Shammickite said...

Well, I have certainly learned quite a lot after reading your blog post. I had no idea about the Great Tree in Atlanta.... and I would love to see it!
And your information about Christmas in Japan is fascinating. How interesting it was for you to sit and talk to the Japanese man while his wife was shopping. I hope his wife didn't spend too much money!

Z said...

My Hindu friends in India also celebrate Christmas and put up trees and decorations. It's a little incongruous having decorated evergreens in south India, but lovely.

Heidrun Khokhar, KleinsteMotte said...

What a very appropriate post and I agree we all have our way to validate how we share time no matter what the faith. The Messiah is popular in TO along with the Nutcracker but we also enjoyed the Piaf Dietrich performance on the 19 and his sis bought Star War tickets for Dec 31 to mark the last day with a memorable show before the countdown that Buddy loves. I blog less. I miss it but eyes are weaker yet again.carry on . All the best to you and your.

Magic Love Crow said...

I love this post! Thank you for sharing all your beautiful pictures! Thank you for sharing the interesting talk with the Japanese man and their traditions! I love what you said at the end of this post and totally agree! Sending you many blessings for 2020!!! Big Hugs and never stop being you!

Magic Love Crow said...

I forgot to say, I will never think of KFC the same way! LOL!

Joared said...

What a delightful holiday post. Fascinating to learn about the Japanese adoption of Christmas. I recall meeting Col. Sanders and wonder if he knew his KFC chicken had received such appreciation in Japan. Can understand he does have a bit of a Santa Claus appearance. Interesting about the symphony’s appeal, too. The sunset photo is spectacular!

Cergie said...

Bonjour Vagabonde (je me dis que tu trouveras ce commentaire en te réveillant, je n'ai plus de visiteurs de la nuit depuis que Thérèse est rentrée en France et depuis que mes amis anglophones ont déserté)
Je me pose la question de ce grand sapin d'Atlanta, est-il artificiel ? Sacrilège pour moi originaire des Vosges pas loin de l'Alsace et de l'Allemagne où les marchés au sapins sont florissants à Noël. Mai j'ai découvert que sur la place Vendôme les grands sapins aussi sont artificiels

Cergie said...

Quelle belle rencontre tu as faite de ce monsieur attendant sa femme à tes cotés ! Ce fut une splendide occasion pour découvrir la tradition japonaise liée à Noël. Cela ne m'étonne pas que le coté festif y ait la prépondérance.
Lorsque j'étais enfants Noël n'avait rien de festif, il y avait le chocolat chaud après la messe de minuit et le déjeuner familial élargi à mes oncle et tante, c'était tout. La crèche tout de même puis lorsque nos enfants sont nés il y a eu un sapin.
J'espère que tu as passé un heureux temps de Noël. Et il est encore temps de te souhaiter une très heureuse année 2020 pleine de joies et de découverte. Et que tes jambes te portent vers tes dvouvertes avec efficience.

Dee said...

Dear Vagabonde, I'm late responding to your Christmas posting. I had a total knee replacement on 11/18/19 and I'm only now getting back into the swing of things. (Sort of reclaiming of life after a grueling recuperation!)

Thank you once again for educating me about the world at large. I always learn from your postings and that so delights me. The information on how the Japanese celebrate Christmas was all new to me.

And thank you, also, for your words about sharing. I get so tired of the us/them division in our country (and perhaps around the world although I think the US has made it into what some might consider "an art form!!!!!") Somehow, so many of us need to judge others instead of simply being content with trying to live our own lives as best we can with kindness and consideration and respect for others. Thank you for reminding us of that.

And may your new year be filled with possibilities for growth in the human spirit. Peace.

kenju said...

Vagabonde, thanks to Ronni Bennett, you have a new follower. It was, indeed, Naomi of whom I spoke on Ronni's blog. I am so pleased to know she is still with us, even though she has not blogged for a long time. Please tell her that Jim and Judy remember her fondly, think of and speak of her often - and wish she was still blogging (although we understand.) If we were in better health, I'd plan a trip to see her, but that is not possible at this time.

I do not read blogs or write as often as I used to, but I will pop in from time to time. Our best to you, and to Naomi!

Arkansas Patti said...

Like Judy, I just read your comment on Ronnie's blog and was so relieved to hear that Naomi is still with us. Thank you so much for that information. I am so sorry she has quit blogging because of her sight. I really missed her lovely and interesting blog posts. The Oscars is never the same with out her insight. I periodically visit her blog looking for an update. I know you left one via a comment a couple of years ago that was so welcome.
If you do talk to her again, please tell her that Arkansas Patti sends her thoughts, prayers and hugs.
By the way, enjoyed your post very much and learned some interesting things about the Japanese. The ten thousand member choir was stunning.

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