Mental Notes with Hilary Valdez: A different holiday season

Mental Notes with Hilary Valdez: A different holiday season

by Hilary Valdez
Stripes Okinawa

Well, here we are: Christmas and holiday season again. And, with it, a sense of hope for peace on earth, our future, and the coming year. Everywhere you look sparkling multi-colored lights, evergreen wreaths, mistletoe, candy canes, and the sweet fragrance of evergreen conifer, spruce, pine or fir Christmas trees, abounding with optimism. Probably the most celebrated holiday in the world, our modern Christmas is a product of hundreds of years of both secular and religious traditions from around the globe.

The tradition of decorating Christmas trees comes from Germany. But symbolic use of evergreens started in ancient Egypt and Rome, continuing with the German tradition of candlelit trees and taken to America in the 1800s. Decorating evergreen trees had always been a part of the German winter solstice tradition. The first decorated Christmas trees appeared in Strasbourg (part of Alsace) in the beginning of the 17th century and quickly spread.

Enter Santa Claus. The name Santa Claus evolved from the Dutch nickname, Sinter Klaas, a shortened form of Sint Nikolaas (Dutch for Saint Nicholas). His feast day is celebrated on the anniversary of his death, December 6th. This was traditionally considered a lucky day to make large purchases or to get married. Through the 14th and 17th century Saint Nicholas maintained a positive and popular reputation in Europe, especially in Holland. St. Nicholas made his entry into American popular culture towards the end of the 18th century.

As important as the holiday is in Europe, so it is in parts of Asia. In the Philippines,  a country where 80% of its people are Catholic, Filipinos celebrate Christmas for as long as possible. The playing of Christmas carols start in September and celebrations continue until the First Sunday in January when Epiphany or the Feast of the Three Kings is celebrated.

In South Korea, Christians make up about 25-30% of the population. Christmas is an official public holiday - people have the day off work and school. You’ll find Santa Haraboji or Grandpa Santa in a green or a blue suit here. 

Guam celebrates Christmas with its Annual Christmas Festival. Micronesia Mall is part of the Guam Shopping festival. Christmas lights shine brightly on the street of Tumon and everywhere on Guam.

In Japan, where about one percent of the Japanese population is Christian, Santa is known as Santa-san or Mr. Santa. Hoeiosho, the Japanese equivalent of Santa Claus, is a Buddhist monk who bears gifts for children. In the past few decades, Christmas has been celebrated in Japan, not as a religious event but as a time to spread happiness. During the Christmas season the Japanese tradition is to spread love; family members share gifts and cards of love. Christmas Eve is instead a romantic day where couples spend time together and exchange presents. New Year’s is the time when family members come together, visit a Shinto temple or Buddhist shrine, and celebrate January 1st with food and drinks. In Japan, KFC fried chicken is the Christmas Day meal of choice and the traditional sweet— Christmas cake, a sponge cake decorated with strawberries and whipped cream— a seasonal-must.

The holiday season is different this year and we’ll have to work a little bit harder to overcome unhappy situations but if we awaken to the basic human qualities of kindness, compassion, forgiveness, and understanding, it will make happiness and survival that much easier.


Hilary Valdez is a retiree living in Japan. He is an experienced Mental Health professional and Resiliency Trainer. Valdez is a former Marine and has worked with the military most of his career and most recently worked at Camp Zama as a Master Resiliency Trainer. Valdez now has a private practice and publishes books on social and psychological issues. His books are available on Amazon and for Kindle. Learn more about Valdez and contact him at or at

Subscribe to our Stripes Pacific newsletter and receive amazing travel stories, great event info, cultural information, interesting lifestyle articles and more directly in your inbox!

Follow us on social media!

Facebook: Stars and Stripes Pacific
Flipboard: Stars and Stripes Community Sites

Looking to travel while stationed abroad? Check out our other Pacific community sites!
Stripes Japan
Stripes Korea
Stripes Guam

Recommended Content

Around the Web