Japanese Christmas

Japanese Christmas

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  1. The Japanese, though primarily Buddhist, Shinto, or more commonly a combination of the two, do celebrate Christmas, especially the younger generations. Christmas in Japan is a bit different, though, when compared to the Christmas celebrations in the U.S., or the West in general.

    One of the biggest Japanese Christmas traditions is the Christmas Cake, which is unlike traditional Western Christmas sweets. In fact, the Japanese thought that Christmas Cake came from the West, and many are surprised when they learn that this is not something common in the U.S.

    Japanese Christmas Cake consists of a sponge cake, usually two layers, with whole strawberries in between, as well as whipped cream filling the middle between the layers. The whole cake is then iced with whipped cream (stabilized, like the whipped cream in bakeries), and then decorated. Decorations vary from fruit to marzipan Santas, or other marzipan designs, to chocolates and “Merry Christmas” decorations. There are other styles, some with chocolate, some with more fruit, some just plain, but the most common contain strawberries, whipped cream, chocolates and/or marzipan designs.

    Christmas Cake is usually eaten on December 24th, Christmas Eve, in Japan. There is actually an old running “joke” (of sorts) that women and Christmas cake are sweet and delicious, but no one really wants either after the 25th; indicating that women should be married before they turn 25 years old. Granted, this reflects older Japanese thought, and many women are waiting to marry until later in life, and some choose not to marry at all. But it is an interesting cultural note.

    Aside from Christmas Cake, Japanese will often have a small get-together with friends on Christmas Eve, enjoy Christmas Cake and usually a Western-style take-out meal, such as pizza or Kentucky Fried Chicken dinners. Small gifts are exchanged, which may be more common between couples but it is not unheard of between friends, and sometimes Christmas carols (or the Japanese versions of carols) are sung as well. Overall, it’s a smaller celebration than in the Western world, but it might be considered more intimate and less commercialized than in the West also.

    Want to try making your own Christmas Cake?

    • Use a Sponge Cake Recipe, or Hot Milk Sponge Cake, but follow the directions carefully so the cake rises and stays firm.
    • Make in two round layers, using 6″ or 8″ round cake pans.
    • Allow it to cool completely, or even refrigerate it before whipping the cream and assembling the cake. Thus, it’s best to make the cake portion the day before you need it.
    • Put the mixing bowl and beaters in the freezer or fridge to make sure they’re cold. Whip heavy cream or whipping cream until stiff peaks form, adding whipped cream stabilizer according to directions. Dr. Oetker Whip It can be purchased in many grocery stores, or check with a local bakery.
    • Marzipan can usually be purchased from grocery stores (baking aisle) or from craft stores with cake decorating supplies. Use marzipan to make decorations such as fruit, snowmen, or Santa.
    • Wash, dry, and remove the stems from strawberries.
    • Assemble the cake. Place the bottom layer on a plate, spread some of the whipped cream on the layer, arrange the strawberries, spread a bit more whipped cream, and then top with second layer. “Ice” the cake with the remaining whipped cream, reserving some for a decorating bag, if desired.
    • Decorate as desired. Keep refrigerated until ready to serve.

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