Oseibo: Giving Gifts of Gratitude
Long before the arrival of Christmas in Japan, there was another winter-gift giving tradition-- Oseibo. Paired with a summer counterpart, Chugen, Oseibo is about giving gifts out of gratitude. Gifts for Oseibo are exchanged throughout the beginning of December and are not relegated to a single day. Oseibo gift-giving is about showing thanks to people who have shown you kindness throughout the year. People commonly give gifts to their neighbors, coworkers, bosses, and even landlords during this time.
Oseibo has its roots as a tradition to honor the ancestors and the gods. As the year grew close to its end, people would place gifts on the graves of their ancestors. People would commonly leave consumables, such as food or alcohol as offerings to give thanks and pray for blessings for the upcoming year. Participants would commonly distribute goods for offerings among themselves, and this tradition eventually grew into what is recognized today as Oseibo.
Oseibo traditions today are actually somewhat smaller than they were during the bulk of the 20th century. Christmas, which grew a great deal in popularity in Japan during the 1980s and 1990s, has come to displace Oseibo in younger people’s minds as the winter gift-giving holiday. Oseibo is usually practiced among older people in Japan, with relatively few people younger than middle-age participating. Gifts of food and alcohol are still what is traditionally given for Oseibo. Many malls have kiosks where customers can order sukiyaki sets, new crop high-end rice, sweets, and liquor to be delivered to whomever might be on their Oseibo list.
As of now, the traditions of Christmas and Oseibo exist in Japan alongside one another, with retail businesses holding options for both. Shopping districts during November and December in Japan are marked by the coexistence of Christmas decorations and Oseibo gift set advertisements. No matter the form, however, the spirit of giving gifts and expressing gratitude is in the air during the end of the year in Japan.