One way to open your eyes is to ask yourself, What if I had never seen this before? What if I knew I would never see it again?
Taking place on the second Monday in January, Seijin No Hi is the Japanese ‘Coming of Age Day’. Twenty years is the age of adulthood in Japan, when young people are first legally permitted to drive, drink, smoke and gamble and Seijin No Hi is a day in celebration of those who turned twenty in the previous year. Special Seijin Shiki (Coming of Age Day Ceremonies) are held for twenty-year-olds in city offices around Japan. Those who have come of age visit a Shinto shrine with family and friends to seek blessings from Kami (spirits). Girls wear traditional Japanese dress in the form of kimono (a long, loose traditional Japanese robe with wide sleeves), obi (a broad sash worn round the waist of kimono), zori (a traditional flip-flop-style shoe) and a number of accessories. They get up early in the morning to have their hair and makeup done and their kimonos fitted. The outfits are often hired, as it can cost in excess of 1,000,000 Yen (around £6,800 in 2017) for the full ensemble!
For more information about Seijin Shiki and Seijin No Hi please click here
Alternatively known as ‘Tondo Matsuri’, ‘Sai No Kami’, ‘Sagicho’’ and Dondo Yaki’, Dōsojin Matsuri are special New Year Fire Festivals. They are held in shrines and public spaces to bless and then burn the previous year’s New Year’s decorations on a huge bonfire constructed of a wigwam of bamboo. Shimekazari (sacred New Year decoration made from braided rice straw and good luck charms) and other New Year ornaments are taken down from homes and ceremoniously burned on the fire to secure good health and a fruitful harvest the following year. The calligraphic wishes or prayers of young children (called kakizome) are also placed onto the bonfire. As the children’s’ prayers are burnt, they are lifted up into the air towards the gods, bringing success to the children in the new year. The loud crackling and popping sounds made by the burning bamboo is believed to tell listeners whether or not they will receive good fortune in the year to come.
Dōsojin is also the name for the Shinto guardian deities, which are closely associated with fertility in crops and people. At Dōsojin Matsuri, prayers are made to Dōsojin statues for successful births and bountiful harvests. One of the largest celebrations of Dōsojin Matsuri takes place at Nozowa Onsen in Nagana Prefecture.
For more information about Dōsojin Matsuri please click here
All that is gold does not glitter, not all those who wander are lost; the old that is strong does not wither, deep roots are not reached by the frost.
Keep a green tree in your heart and perhaps a singing bird will come.
Literally meaning ‘small new year’, Koshōgatsu begins with the first full moon day of the year. It is an auspicious day for the Japanese. Prayers are made to Goddess Izanami who, along with God Izanagi, is believed to have given rise to Kami (spirits) and thus the whole of nature. Izanami and Izanagi are understood as the creators of Japan. Other Koshōgatsu rites and practices are focused predominately on the next year’s harvest. Prayers are made for a good harvest, and many rice-planting and other paddy-field festivals take place.
Shishimai (a Lion Dance) is also performed in Japan around the time of Koshōgatsu as a form of prayer for household safety and a good harvest. Adapted from a similar Chinese custom, shishimai features performers clad in ornate Lion costumes dancing to the accompanying sounds of bamboo flutes and drums. At the end of the dance the lions ‘bite’ the heads off a few members of the audience to bring good fortune.
For more information about Koshōgatsu please click here
07 January 2017
While Western Christian churches use the Gregorian calendar, Orthodox Christian churches continue to use the Julian calendar, which preceded it. According to the Julian calendar Christmas Day should be celebrated on 7 January each year. Celebrations are fairly similar to the Christmas of Western Christianity. The period is preceded with a forty-day period when people abstain from foods such as meat. Fasting culminates on Christmas Eve when a special dinner takes place, often comprised of twelve dishes to represent the twelve apostles. Feasting continues on Christmas Day.
The houses and churches of Orthodox Christians are often decorated with a Nativity scene. Many Orthodox countries have their own particular Christmas customs and traditions. In Ethiopia, Orthodox Christians wear white clothing to attend special church services, whilst in Serbia families set out into the forest to find a suitable oak branch to decorate their homes. For more information about the Orthodox Christmas Day please click here
06 January 2017
Falling on the twelfth day after Christmas Day, Epiphany marks the end of the Christmas festivities for Christians in the Western world. The word itself means ‘revelation’, thus Epiphany is a celebration of the coming of God to humankind through His son, Jesus Christ. In the Nativity story, Epiphany is the day when the three Magi (Three Wise Men) brought the baby Jesus gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. To commemorate Epiphany, some Christians attend a special service at a church, which may be decorated with a model scene depicting the Magi’s visit to the baby Jesus.
It is also traditional for Christians to remove their Christmas decorations on or before this day, because it is considered unlucky to display them beyond the 06 January, when the twelve days of Christmas officially ends. Some people in the UK hold Twelfth Night parties on this day, with family and friends gathering together to share Wassail (warm punch) and a special Twelfth Night cake. The person who finds the dried pea or bean in their slice of cake becomes king or queen for the evening and can tell everyone else what to do!
For more information about Epiphany please click here
05 January 2017
Born in 1666, Guru Gobind Singh was the last of the ten human Gurus of the Sikh faith. He is renowned for the creation of the Khalsa Sikh community and for declaring the Sikh holy book, Guru Granth Sahib, his eternal successor. In India, where Guru Gobind Singh Jayanti is widely celebrated, festivities include large processions through the streets, accompanied by devotional hymns. Special services are held in gurdwaras (Sikh temple), and historical lectures and poems are delivered in praise of Guru Gobind Singh. It is traditional for Sikhs to enjoy a drink of sharvat (sherbert) during the festivities.
For more information about Guru Gobind Singh Jayanti please click here
Meaning literally ‘first writing’, kakizome are the first calligraphic writings of the new year. Calligraphy is a widely practised and distinguished art in Japan, where kakizome began centuries ago with the writing of Chinese poetry in kanji (Chinese characters) as a way for the Japanese to sharpen their minds and improve their concentration. The tradition has evolved and today, instead of writing out long passages of Chinese poetry, people use kanji to write their own auspicious words and phrases to help strengthen their resolve and reinforce their resolutions for the new year.
While kakizome is largely completed in the Japanese home, many public kakizome events are held in buildings such as schools and sports halls during the first few days in January. Children and young adults compete to write specified words or poetry; they are then judged on the beauty of their strokes and the character of their writing.
For more information about Kakizome please click here
May you be filled with loving kindness. May you be well. May you be peaceful and at ease. May you be happy.
31 December to 01 January
Shōgatsu is the Japanese New Year’s Day. Although it was not established as a Public Holiday until 1948, the day had long been celebrated as a day of imperial worship known as Shihō-hai. On Ōmisoka (New Year’s Eve) preparations for the new year begin. Homes, schools and businesses are cleaned, debts are paid, and Osechi-ryōri (special New Year food presented in decorative, lacquered, multi-layered bento boxes) is prepared for a traditional Shōgatsu meal. Special foods eaten during Shōgatsu are o-toso (sweet sake flavoured with cassia bark, herbs and spices) and mochi (sticky rice cakes).
In the evening of Ōmisoka, families come together to watch a special New Year variety show on television, staying up until midnight to enjoy a traditional meal of toshikoshi soba (a special New Year dish of soba (buckwheat) noodles). At Yasaka Jinja (Yasaka shrine) in Kyoto, a sacred fire is kindled and visitors are encouraged to take home some of the embers as it is believed that good fortune will be granted to those who use them to cook their first meal of the new year. Shimekazari (sacred ropes braided of race straw and adorned with good luck charms) are hung above the doors of many Japanese homes and businesses to ward off evil spirits and to invite Kami (spirits) to enter.
In the early morning on Shōgatsu, it is traditional for people to make their first prayer visit of the year to a Shinto shrine. This practice is known as Hatsumōde. It is very important in Japanese culture and many women dress up in their finest kimonos. During Hatsumōde, Japanese people express gratitude to Kami for the divine protection they received in the past year and ask for their continual protection in the year ahead.
For more information about Ōmisoka, Shōgatsu and Hatsumōde please click here