The Dekkai Christmas Special   
     I have never made hidden my love of two particular times of year. The early spring brings Easter, the NCAA basketball tournaments, my birthday and, most importantly, The Masters. This was ever more heightened in a year were I started my life in Japan and experiencing the bloom of the cherry blossoms. It may still only hold second place though to the holiday season. The colder weather, hockey and basketball in full effect, bowl season, the Vikings getting ready to break my heart again, eggnog. The unavailability of eggnog is one of the few drawbacks of Japan. And then there is Christmas, my favorite holiday of all. I love everything from the music, to the food, to the movies (Top 3 Christmas movies: Die Hard, Holiday Inn, A Charlie Brown Christmas). Beside the religious context of the holiday, my favorite part of Christmas is my family. I love spending time with them, giving gifts and seeing them smile. Also, the Christmas cookies Mom makes are the best and now internationally beloved. Mom made some for my teachers and they were gone in no time.
     As important as that is, I faced a bit of an issue. I was about to spend Christmas alone in Japan. School was entering winter break, my friends were all traveling for the holiday and I couldn’t afford a trip back stateside. That said, I was going to enjoy the holiday the best I could. Some help was coming shortly after Christmas (more on that later), but I had a plan in the meantime.
     The last week of school was void of classes for the most part. I had to beg to have sixth grade classes one day, just so I could get out of the office. Well, I was able to sneak out a few times to help in basketball classes. Playing and reffing basketball in a shirt and tie is fun. Add in a Santa hat and you have a legendary day. I even kept an age old tradition, giving the “Kobe” moniker to the kid who was better than 90% of the class and never passed the ball. My Father and old coaches would be proud, as I kept telling the kids to use the backboard. One class, the teacher would use me as reinforcements if a team was outmatched. The excitement on that teams face was extraordinary, the fear on the other teams face was priceless. Of course I took it easy on the kids, mostly just dribbling around them before dishing to an open girl for the basket. I did use my height a bit for rebounding and a couple easy scores. I only sent one student’s shot across the gym. Kid is a great athlete and is taller than everyone else in his grade. I knew he would get a laugh out of it. One girl caught a pass, turning around to see me a foot away from her. She went white as a ghost and chucked the ball as far as she could, over the end line, 15 feet left of the basket. I nearly doubled over laughing. When the class came to an end, I noticed something strange. Some of the kids were crying. Obviously worried, I asked Sensei if the kids were okay. He told me that the students had so much fun and were so happy, that some actually were overcome with emotion. It was yet another moment where I fell in love with teaching at that school.
     Before the end of the term, I also had to set my Christmas Day plan in motion. I had to take part in a Japanese tradition. Christmas is still a fairly new holiday for a Japanese people steeped in their own culture. Most use Christmas Eve as the ultimate night to take that special someone out on a date. Well, unfortunately, I have about as much luck in finding a date as the Lions have getting playoff wins. So I had to settle for the next best thing, fried chicken. As the legend goes, foreigners many years ago were looking to have a holiday meal and found Japan lacking one staple in particular. You see, turkeys are not found on the island country and can be expensive to ship in. Looking for an alternative, chicken was the obvious choice. And when one thinks chicken, often the Colonel comes to mind. Word started to spread and KFC was quick to capitalize. Soon, the ad campaign was in full swing and the legendary KFC Christmas meals were born. Now, everyone from Denny’s to Family Mart have giant campaigns every year to have you order their chicken and cakes. Most start advertising in late October or early November. Even in Japan, you can’t escape the ever earlier start of Christmas.

     It was finally Christmas Eve and everything just felt off. I had been listening to my Christmas music and shopping for gifts, but still was lacking some Christmas spirit. I tried to salvage what I could. I was able to piecemeal together an Italian dinner at 7-11. I’m fairly sure if Mom saw what I was passing off as a poor imitation of our family tradition, she would have cried. I watched some holiday favorites, The Star Wars Holiday Special and The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya (they are Christmas based). I went to bed that night having not franticly wrapped presents or having found the perfect balance of eggnog and whisky. And when finally the big day had arrived, I had slept in until 11, with no place to be or anyone to see. I had my coffee and opened the only gift that had arrived in time for the holiday. My Bro and his family had sent me a Minnesota Vikings Gnome and a nice card (It’s awesome. Thank you). Not to say I wasn’t spoiled with gifts. I just had to wait until the New Year to receive them. International shipping can be a bitch.
     I was not going to be deterred from enjoying the day. I still had my chicken to pick up. So that afternoon I put on a light sweatshirt (it had been an unseasonably warm winter thus far) and my Santa hat, debarking on the twenty minute walk to KFC. Now, I am fairly used to the stares I get in everyday life. I get a kick out of it. But when a large, white, bespectacled, bearded man with a Santa hat walks down the street in Japan on Christmas day, people lose their damned minds. I am really glad people came to their senses long enough to avoid traffic accidents. I had an entire road construction crew wish me a Merry Christmas. One gentleman walking passed looked so hard pressed to comprehend my existence that he decided to either start drinking or give up drinking immediately. I heard at least two kids yell “Santa”, whom I obliged with a wave. You can still be Santa in blue jeans and a Portland Timbers jacket.
     My arrival at the restaurant was met with what had to be the happiest group ever to work a holiday. They were almost euphoric that I had arrived to get my chicken. The manager talked my ear off for about ten minutes, eager to use every last bit of English he knew. I couldn’t help but regain some of the Christmas spirit after my visit. Japanese customer service is just the best. Eventually I returned home with my festive bounty, ready to partake of my long awaited meal. In my giant bucket was some original recipe, chicken tenders, a salad and my chocolate Christmas cake. I also received a festive plate that my Sister wants very badly as it says “Happy Christmas”. I was able to get a couple of meals out of the bucket, the cake lasting the longest. It all tasted great, but was still overpriced. This is why I never get KFC in Japan. It’s about the most expensive meal I’ve had this year. Well, outside the night I got filet mignon.
     The best part for me came much later that night, when I was able to video chat with my family as they opened gifts. It didn’t matter to me that it was 2:30 am on the day after. It was Christmas morning for them and I still got to be a part of it. Seeing the look on my niece and nephew’s faces as they opened gifts meant the world to me. Unfortunately, my gifts wouldn’t get to them for another week. The important part is that I was still a part of it. I still got to spend the holiday with my family, if only through the camera lens of my Mom’s iPhone. The miracle of modern technology had saved me once again. What I couldn’t have imagined is that this was the start of possibly the greatest vacation of my life. For a few short days later, I would be on a bus for Tokyo, on my way to reunite with one of my best friends. That week would be an adventure full of unforgettable experiences, new places and food. Seriously, so much amazing food. But that’s another story all together.

To Be Continued

​... the students had so much fun and were so happy, that some actually were overcome with emotion.

Jeff Maack