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So this was Christmas?

December 26, 2011 at 2:00 AM

`So this is Christmas?` As the Bard once said. Or was it JFK?
Christmas starts early November in Japan, with inflatable red and white arches around the entrances of convenience stores, decorations that I bang my head on while shopping and 87 billion renditions of `Last Christmas,` playing in every store known to woman. Drugs aside, that abomination is what George Michael should have been put in the slammer for.
For me, Christmas is not a religious celebration so I wonder what it all means? The Pope has been rabbiting on about consumerism, which is hardly original but he may have a point. Kids here are all expecting relatively expensive electronic toys called DS or WTF or whatever while their parents agonize over spending that money so their offspring can be as moronic as the next, while in the Tohoku (tsunami) region other kids with nothing struggle through a bleak and cold existence with little more than the bare essentials. Others, disenfranchised by the nuclear disaster wonder which hotel or relative they will be shacking up with for the vacation.
I guess for me it’s about expressing gratitude. `Thanks,` is such a simple word, yet so powerful. The other day someone asked me to do them what seemed like a fairly small favor, but since they didn’t know the country or the situation they had no idea how much work I had to do, how many favors I called in, while actually being extremely busy. I was glad to do it, but did I get even a simple thanks? Not one jot. It leaves a bad taste.
One of the things I like about Japan is that there is an –extremely- developed sense of debt and gratitude built into the culture and social exchanges. If someone helps you out you owe them, and consequently move heaven and earth to repay that debt. It may be a little artificial or strange to westerners at times but it works in its own way and is not to be sneezed at.
Then there is `gratitude,` on a much larger scale. As I get older, with me and the world seeming to be falling apart in so many dimensions it is becoming easier and easier to be morbid instead of giving thanks everyday. Thanks for waking up in the morning, having food on the table, being able to listen to music, talk to people here and having a cat with bad breathe. There is a lot to be grateful for and a lot to be shared (will share the cat with anyone).
Yes, that is the key to Christmas: give thanks for what you have and then share it with other people.
Have a happy New Year too.

From marjory lange
Posted on December 26, 2011 at 7:54 PM
"have a happy new year, too" is a good place to start gratitude.

Thanks, Buri. Your dissatisfaction is very helpful.

From Yixi Zhang
Posted on December 26, 2011 at 8:48 PM

Gratitude and, yes, reciprocity, are bigger in some cultures than the others for sure. In Canada, I frequently find it hard to find the right balance between giving and the expectation of some response from the recipient. I definitely believe that being thankful is the secret to happiness and I’ve got a Chinese sign of "Everyday is a good day" in office to remind myself.

I’m going to make this sweeping generalization: there are two kinds of people in the world: the givers/helpers and the takers. This has everything to do with what kind of person one wants to be.

When I was little, I couldn’t understand for instance why my grandmother, who didn’t have much to start with, was always without thinking so generous and gave every last bit of stuff she had to others when the need occurred. Some people took advantage of it and that clearly upsets her but didn’t stop her doing this again and again. I was convinced from very early on that givers had a bad deal in the world and I would definitely not want to be one when I grow up. The older I got however the more I noticed that I was more and more like my grandmother. For years people have been telling me that I give too much, that I should ask for more. A therapist I had years ago even hinted that there was something wrong with my self-esteem because I was “giving myself away”. Givers are not necessarily considered cool people, not in North America anyway. Getting into the reasons what people have can be quite depressing. But givers are always givers. You take the good and bad with you:)

On the receiving side, one of the most difficult things for me to adjust in Canada when I first came was what I saw to be a lack of reciprocity among people. It made me feel deeply cold to be around them. But I am an extreme case in that I usually get so touched by any favor people gave to me that I feel that saying “thank-you” is usually not enough. I need to give something back right away if I can. And there are favors that I will never be able to pay back, such as what I’ve received from people who helped me on my career path, or in my learning something really important to me, such as violin. So in these cases I need to catch myself when showing too much gratitude overtly which could result making people feeling uncomfortable.

I explored a bit and was intriguing to find out some different ways of addressing this issue. One sticks out is the notion some people hold that favor is, as it were, some kind of common currency that can be passed from one person to the other. You helped X, Y, Z in the past so when A, B, C does something for you, you shouldn’t feel you owe the latter anything because you paid your due in the past to someone else and this is how favors get passed around in the world. This may work especially when one lives in the environment where people are so much rely on such exchange of favors in order to get anywhere, such as, in the academic world, or among a bunch of foreigners who need a lot of help to get around.

By the way, when I was in Kyoto last month, I got a pretty strong impression that people there say “thank you” when favors are given to them but don’t necessarily reciprocate. I don’t consider whether it is good or bad, but only that it is.

Thank you again Buri, for another thoughtful blog. It’s been a while and I’m sure I’m not the only v.commee is hugely thankful to see Buri’s return.

Happy New Year!


From Marsha Weaver
Posted on December 26, 2011 at 11:37 PM

You're a total treasure, and I thank you for sharing yourself with us!

Wishing you a very Happy New Year (and a Festive Groundhog Day -- a bit early, but I like to be prepared),


From Ray Randall
Posted on December 27, 2011 at 1:53 PM
Happy new year to you too.
Yes, I agree about the givers and takers, but lately the givers have been involuntarily giving
to those who know nothing but taking. The trouble the takers vote.
From jean dubuisson
Posted on December 27, 2011 at 2:56 PM
Merry Christmas (belated) and Happy New Year, Stephen. I want to thank you for all the helpful tips you have posted (and are still posting) on this site. They have been tremendously helpful for me in finding the right way and the right things to practice the violin.
From Lisa Van Sickle
Posted on December 27, 2011 at 7:28 PM
Just think of George Michael as the western world's retribution for Hello Kitty.
From Stephen Brivati
Posted on December 27, 2011 at 7:35 PM
I wear Hello Kitty underpants.
From Charlie Gibbs
Posted on December 29, 2011 at 8:06 PM
Consumerism? Hah. Every Christmas the Vancouver Sun runs at least one editorial reminding us that if we truly recognize the meaning of Christmas we'll do our duty to The Economy and buy, buy, buy. This year, to drive the point home, they repeated the message, exhorting us to get out to those Boxing Day sales and spend whatever we might have left.

At least they come right out and say "Merry Christmas" instead of all this politically correct "Happy Holidays" crap. After all, Christmas is a religious celebration - even if your god is the almighty dollar and/or the huge corporations that rake them in.

Sorry about the rant, I just had to get that off my chest. We had a nice little Christmas, first with family and then with a friend with whom we played Corelli (he and I on violin, my wife on cello) until we were ready to fall over. I hope you all had a warm, friendly and musical Christmas as well.

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