Christmas in Japan can be one of the most surprising experience in that country. If you have the chance to spend the end of the year there, you should definitively take time to experience that unique event.
I still have memories of my first yet slightly deceiving 25 December in Japan. Christmas decoration, Eve Dinner and snow were nowhere to be seen. It was nothing really different from the daily routine and for me, who had waited weeks for, it was quite a deception. I was not the only one though: most of my foreign friends seemed to be in the same jaded mood.
There are several reasons to explain what a foreigner (i.e coming from a country with christian background) can feel. First, most of Japanese people are buddhist/shintoist and only a fraction (roughly 1%) declare themselves christians. Also, there is no vacation on that day so don't expect to see a lot of families walking together in the street.
So maybe you are wondering what are Japanese people doing on that day and its evening? Well, actually most of the young people will date their crush or spend romantic time with their beloved-one. This is it : rather than Western christmas celebration, the Eve and 25th could be described as another Valentine's day :-)
Now don't get me wrong, some families also are celebrating at KFC (!) chickens and a delicious strawberry chiffon cake brought by the father on his way back from work.
And if you go to any department shop or gallery you are going to be drown in a crowd of people looking for the best present.
A great experience indeed (if you come by Kyoto, i strongly recommend to check Daimaru and Takashiyama in the city center).
And for those of you who still wants to believe in, don't worry : Santa claus (i mean - Santa san (^～^) is famous here too! Interesting fact: an old buddhist divinity looking like Santa and called Hoteiosho (commonly known as Budai, the laughing Buddah) is still venerated and thought to bring presents to kids.
In spite of all of this, Japanese Christmas can lack of the "Christmas Spirit" we are used to and you may find yourself out of projects or things to do, so here are some cools things to see and do in Kyoto. If you are lucky enough to enjoy snow falls that day (but trust me, it is very unusual) you should absolutely grasp the chance and go to one of the city's famous temple for an unforgettable time.
There is also a place called Teijin where thousands of people gather for one of the biggest open-air market of the city. it's a truly unique atmosphere you won't see elsewhere.
If you prefer temple and traditional event then Chion-in Temple, with its Taiko drummers ceremony, will be perfect. The place itself is amazing: The Sanmon (Main Gate) is one of the biggest in Asia.
Of course you could also drive until Kobe or Osaka where Illumination shows are popular. My personal favorite is Kobe Luminarie, an even in the memory of the 1995 Earthquake victims.
So even if it will never have the taste of a good old Christmas Eve dinner, there is plenty enough to see and do here.
By the way, if you really want to enjoy a great meal in a warm atmosphere, you wouldn't have to wait for too long anyway because Japanese New's Year Eve is exactly what you are looking for. But this will need another post ... :')