Another year is coming to an end soon. In Singapore where most of the people celebrate Lunar New Year, it may sound a little bit away, but is there any annual tradition, family event, special customs before getting a new year started?
In Japan there're several traditions for New Year preparations that have been passed down for generations although it slightly defers depending on the area or the families. Now that I'm staying in Singapore away from home, my families and relatives, it's not easy to follow our annual routine, also it's difficult climatically for some of the customs which I've grown up with are being lost sad to say. However as a Japanese with the thought to renew the awareness of the cultures and customs that our ancestors have been cherished depending on the season and also the thought and meaning behind them, I decided to write about the preparations for new year and would like to share with my kids.
In Japan it is said that "Toshigami-sama" descend to your house in New Year. "Toshigami-sama" is the god who promises a harvest being abundant that nobody will suffer from hunger and stay healthy and happy throughout the year. Most of the things that I'm going to share here are the preparations to welcome the god.
<Major house cleaning and cleanse a home shrine>
There's an expression "spring cleaning" in English, but that us done at the end of the year in Japan. A large scale cleaning inside and outside the house is done so that you can welcome "Toshigami-sama" having a proper condition at home. Also we cleanse a home shrine that is the house for the god at home.
This is displayed outside the entrance of the house as a sign of welcoming the god to the house.
This is supposed to decorate at the home shrine, but now due to a change of the lifestyle and increase of the family living in an apartment not a house, they hang it on front door.
Kagami-mochi that consists of Mochi and orange are said to be the place of the heart and soul of the god, and also an offering to the god.
<Preparation for "Osechi">
"Osechi" is the special food served during New Year, Most of those food are long lasting ones for the first 3 days of New Year, They are stored in a special 3-4 tired lacquered boxes called "Oju-bako". Each tier is supposed to store specific food which is 20-30 kinds depending on the area or family. Stacking each tier contains special meals on top of another means pilling up good luck. Also by preparing those meals, there's no need to cook during those 3 days, then it is said that house wives can rest at least during that time. Also another meaning that while we welcome "Toshigami-sama" at house, we try to make our house including kitchen to be calm.
"Toshikoshi-soba" is Soba noodle eaten on New Year's eve. There're several theories concerning this traditional food, but one of them is for wihing longevity because Soba can stretch longer.
<New Year's greeting card>
The origin of New Year's card is date back to Heian era when is more than 899 years ago. The people used to visit the relatives and the person who helped them out to thank and greet in New Year, but later those relationship got wider, and then sending letters got more popular. Now that the internet and SNS are common in our life, we especially younger generations go paperless for New Year's greeting. I remember I was so excited to check our mailbox to see how many greeting cards I got on the first day of New Year.
<New Year's monetary gift>
Children get some money from the parents and relatives on New Year's day, but the origin of this is said that the god gives us a new and fresh soul in return for the offerings. People are used to believe that they can stay healthy throughout the year thanks to the new soul. Today it has been transformed into monetary gift. It is called "Otoshi-dama".
Do you find any similarities between your country or family and ours? Due to a change in the lifestyle, the style of the family or the spread of the internet, some traditions are being lost and some of them, its form has changed with the ages. But the feeling of hoping your family to be happy and stay healthy has remained universal and timeless wish, so however it shapes, however the way to show it, why don't we have a passing thought about your family, ancestors and the traditions once a year before welcoming a new year.