Photo/Illutration Visitors enjoy a Christmas market in Yokohama's Naka Ward on Dec. 4. (Nobuo Fujiwara)

My memories of Christmas as a university student are that it always made me miserable.

That was because I was painfully aware of society's incontrovertible dictate that the day must be celebrated with one's romantic partner.

But having no such person, I would invariably end up at someone's apartment to commiserate with fellow singles over cheap shochu liquor.

Tying romance to Christmas is a uniquely Japanese custom, a fact I reconfirmed from "Christmas: The Sacred to Santa" by British author Tara Moore. I also learned from this book how diversely Christmas is celebrated around the world.

In Ghana, for example, the day is for honoring midwives because Christmas, after all, is the day of Christ's birth. Every year, according to Moore, the number of children born on Dec. 25 is reported, along with the names of the midwives who delivered them.

Just thinking about this makes me feel warm and fuzzy.

In Britain, the custom of giving books on Christmas began in the 19th century. Publishing companies were said to have started focusing on producing special books just before Christmas, altering the work schedules and procedures of authors, illustrators and typesetters.

English author Lewis Carroll (1832-1898) was said to have been told to hurry up while writing "Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There."

Christmas traditions have endured, changing by region and despite being criticized for commercialism.

Considering this flexibility, there is no need to be embarrassed about the Japanese way, nor to feel compelled to stick to it.

Christmas Day may well be spent watching your favorite movie or listening to music. And sipping your favorite alcohol alone is just as fine.

The Asahi Shimbun recently reported on a shortage of gaming machines during this year's Christmas shopping season, due to global semiconductor shortages. Some people are apparently unable to get presents for their children and grandchildren this year.

A good solution may be to revive the 19th century British custom and give the youngsters books that are just as enjoyable as games.

--The Asahi Shimbun, Dec. 24

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Vox Populi, Vox Dei is a popular daily column that takes up a wide range of topics, including culture, arts and social trends and developments. Written by veteran Asahi Shimbun writers, the column provides useful perspectives on and insights into contemporary Japan and its culture.