You Can't Stop Christmas

Monday, December 25, 2017

The Japanese Americans who were incarcerated during World War II found it challenging to celebrate Christmas the way they were used to, but they did their best. That includes both the secular and the sacred aspects.

Take the residents of Topaz War Relocation Center, for example. Immediately upon arrival, four churches were formed: Buddhist (yes, they did call it a church), Roman Catholic, Protestant, and Seventh Day Adventist. The various Protestant denominations combined while they were in the camps, with their ministers sharing duties and taking turns preaching. Actually, all of these religious groups were already used to the system because they had organized the same way in the temporary assembly centers.

As the first Christmas behind barbed wire approached, the Christian churches and the secular community made plans to celebrate. School classrooms put up small greasewood Christmas trees, and dining hall staff participated in a contest to see which mess hall had the best decorations. The highlight of the week was a pageant entitled “The Other Wise Man,” with Goro Suzuki taking the lead role. (You may know him better under his stage name Jack Soo playing Detective Nick Yemana in the TV sitcom Barney Miller.)

The Topaz Times also got into the spirit of the season. Here is cartoonist Bennie Nobori’s Christmas comic from the December 25 edition. (Regular readers of this comic strip would have known that Jankee was in love with Topita.)

But Christmas celebrates the birth of Christ, and the sacred celebrations are the most meaningful. The pageant had a religious theme, but the more traditional Christian elements were there, too. Yoshiko Uchida writes that carolers from her (Protestant) church came by on Christmas Eve and that she and her family attended its Christmas Day service.

The Japanese Americans celebrated Christmas behind barbed wire fences while they were being treated as enemies by their own country. If they could do that, then we can celebrate it wherever we are and in any circumstances.

Because Christmas is all about Jesus, and even Satan can’t stop it.


Most of the information from this post comes from various editions of the Topaz Times, which was the camp newspaper. As a U.S. Government publication, its contents are in the public domain.

Additional information comes from pgs. 128-130 of Desert Exile: The Uprooting of an American Family by Yoshiko Uchida.

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