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International flavor permeates Okinawa celebrations

By: Bill Charles

Date Posted: 2008-12-25

Merry Christmas! Tis’ the season, not only for Christian celebration of Christmas, but for Hannukkah, St. Lucia Day and Kwanzaa.

Customs and traditions vary around the world, but from Okinawa and Japan to Korea and China, to the continents of Europe, Africa, America, South America and Australia, December is a very special time. It’s a time for gift-giving, paying homage to ancestors, dressing up and decorating, and good old fashioned fun.
Christmas is celebrated around the world, even by those with differing religious beliefs, as Christians honor the birth of Jesus Christ in Bethlehem. Santa Claus is a part of Christmas, a tradition originally with jolly ol’ St. Nick in Scandinavia, where he made home visits to fill childrens’ stockings and deliver gifts.

Hanukkah, the Jewish Festival of Lights, begins at sundown December 25th and runs through sundown January 2nd. Hanukkah is celebrated to mark the survival of Judaism 23 centuries ago. Jews light the menorah, a special candleholder, to pay homage to a miracle when one day’s oil burned for eight days in the temple. St. Lucia Day, a Swedish celebration on December 13th, also uses candles as part of the festivities. By tradition, young girls dress in long while gowns with red sashes, adorn their heads with burning candles, and sing to their families.

Kwanzaa, an American-created secular holiday, began 42 years ago, in 1966. The African-American holiday runs seven days, from December 26th through January 1st. Instituted by a university professor in the aftermath of the Watts Riots in Los Angeles, Kwanzaa was intended to bring the community together.
Christmas is a national holiday in Korea, but not in mainland China or Japan. In all, though, the popularity of the holiday, with gift giving and colorful lights, make Christmas a near worldwide celebration. Even in Islamic and Hindu countries, the secular side of Christmas is widely celebrated. The Philippines boasts the world’s longest Christmas season, beginning in a trickle of activities in September, then picking up a full head of steam with nine-day dawn Masses on December 16th.

In Central and Eastern Europe, Christmas Eve takes precedence. December 24th is often a fasting day, with gift-giving in the evening. From the Czech Republic and Slovakia to Hungary and Poland, evening feasts cap the day, beginning when the first star is sighted.

Here in Okinawa, it is a little of everything; colorful lights, special religious services, music and laughter are everywhere. Christmas Fantasy is under way at Okinawa Zoo park, the lights are burning at the Itoman Illumination at Peace Prayer Park, Southeast Botanical Gardens is awash in lights, and hotels and resorts are sharing the holiday splendor, too.

Christmas Eve and Christmas Day are filled with opportunities to get out and have fun at dozens of places across the island. Admission is free to the Christmas Party in Okuma at JAL Private Resort Okuma in Kunigami Village.

The festivities begin at 6:30 p.m. Yasuko Yishida and Yuinagu perform at Live House Shimauta on Kokusai Street in Naha City, with tickets ¥2,000. Jazz lovers are in luck at a couple places Christmas Eve, including Xmas Jazz Night Jungle starting at 9:30 p.m. at Jazz Jungle on Park Avenue in Okinawa City, where ¥4,000 tickets include all food and drinks. Admission is free to the Lua Cheia Guitar & Vocal Jazz Live at Aria Cara Lounge at Nikko Alivila Hotel in Yomitanh Village.

Salsa lessons & Lueda Circle are available at Mi Casa Tu Casa in Kumoji, Naha City. Tickets run ¥1,000 ~ 3,000. Conga lessons rae being offered at Partida in Oyama, Ginowan City. The 7 p.m. lesson is only ¥2,000. Admission is free at Coffee Space # Music Space in Omoromachi, Naha City, for Kazuyo Nishihara’s four evening performances.

There are no fewer than 24 different entertainment opportunities on Christmas Day, ranging from dinners to jazz to acoustic guitar to classical music. Ryukyu Dance takes place at 5 p.m. and 7 p.m. at Tembus Hall on Kokusai Street, Naha City, with tickets ¥1,260. Yoriko Ganeko performs at Minyo Stage Utahime, Izumizaki in Naha City at 7 p.m., with tickets ¥1,500.

Kiyoshi Yakabi will be performing at Tedako Hall in Urasoe City at 8 p.m. Christmas night, with tickets ¥3,500 at the door. Admission to Open Stage at Bantar House on Okiei Street in Naha City is free, while visitors can take in the free action at Tokyo Dai-Ichi Hotel Okinawa Grand Mer Resort in Yogi, Okinawa City, with Mami Yonetake. Mongol 800 is performing at Koza Music Town in Okinawa City beginning at 7 p.m. Tickets are ¥3,300.

A complete listing of Christmas Eve and Christmas Day events is located in this issue of Japan Update.

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