Tuesday, December 30, 2014

New Year's twice!

Japan customarily celebrated the New Year by the Lunar Calendar, which will bring New Year's on February 19 this year, with the beginning of the Year of the Goat (or sheep; this seems to depend on personal preference).  For this reason, classic Japanese writings often refer to the New Year as the start of spring, as that's about when the first signs of spring return to the land.
In 1873, however, during the Meiji period, Azuki and Shota would have been stunned to see the Western calendar adopted and all the holidays moved!  Now, Japan officially celebrates New Year's on January 1, with a giant holiday and party!  People decorate with pine and bamboo, and also braided straw ropes.  It's usual to make or buy mochi for one's altar (small cake atop big cake, with a mikan (tangerine) or daidai (another small, but bitter, orange) on top, which is eaten over the course of the holiday.
New Year's Eve, people customarily eat soba (buckwheat noodles) for dinner or supper because the length of the noodles symbolizes long life -- but don't eat them after midnight!  At the stroke of midnight, temples and shrines all over Japan ring their bells 108 times, which represents earthly desires, which some Buddhist sects believe must be eradicated to attain enlightenment.  In some sects, this is followed by a special service to usher in a most wonderful new year.
After THAT, people often stay up to watch the sunrise, trekking to someplace scenic, because "firsts" of things are important in celebrating the new year.  People who haven't visited a shrine or Temple the night before will often attend during the day to make offerings for fortune during the coming year.  At popular Temples and shrines, well, it's great fun, because the party just won't stop.
The holiday continues for several days, with money gifts for children, traditional games, New Year's cards specially delivered on January 1, making and receiving calls and visits, and traditional foods known as O-sechi-ryori, which are special dishes with lucky symbolism.

And then...a number of people like New Year's so much they'll do it again when Lunar New Year's comes around!

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