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  Holidays Celebrate in January
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Asian Artist Winter Painting * * * January – February * * *
Month of Tagu, Days 1-4
Thingyan
 
Myanmar (Burma)

The word "Thingyan" is derived from Pali and Sanskrit words meaning to change or to transfer. The period of transition of the sun from the asterism Revati in Meen to the Asterism Aswini in Mesh is designated "Thingyan."

This special Burmese festival falls in the Burmese month of Tagu. During this festival people throw clear or fragrant water on each other. Since this is the height of summer, water is thrown in sport to cool the heat and also to cleanse away the grime of the old year.

During this time, Buddhists perform such acts of merit as observing the precepts, cleansing pagodas and icons, washing the hair of elders with barks and pods and perfumed water, and cutting of their nails. Charities are held for both fun and merit. Cattle and fish are also set free in the act of granting life.

Source:   Embassy of the Union of Myanmar.

Last Month, Last Day of Lunar Year
Omisoka

Japan

With the influence of the western calendar, some countries, such as Japan, now celebrate the New Year on January 1. Thus on December 31, all preparations for New Year's celebrations must be completed and all debts of the old year paid. A special noodle dish is eaten by those who have settled all accounts and is followed by a hot bath and well-earned rest - some to sleep to noon, others until the evening.

Source:   Japanese Festival and Calendar Lore by William Hugh Erskine. Tokyo: Kyo Bun Kwan, 1933, pp. 148-149.

Moon 1, Days 1-15

The New Year was traditionally celebrated on the first day of the first lunar moon. This moon officially begins with the first new moon after the sun enters Aquarius, which can occur between January 21 and February 9.

Hmong

The New Year Festival officially began on the first day of the waxing moon of the twelfth month of the year. More precisely, it began at the first cock's crowing of that day, which is about three in the morning. Unofficially, it commenced as close to that date as the demands of the harvest permitted.

The New Year Festival was the only Hmong religious ceremony shared by the entire community, usually including members of neighboring communities. It was the time for courting, when eligible bachelors and young Hmong maidens dressed in their finest clothes and when ball games were organized to bring couples together. It was also a time for feasting and visiting friends, and in richer communities, for bull fights.

The fights were not between man and beast but between bulls. It was a sport the Hmong brought with them from China or, more properly, from Kweichow where buffalo rather than bulls are still used in the ceremonial combats. The fights were not to the death, usually ending when one bull turns tail and runs.

In addition to courting and bull fights, ritual sacrifices were performed to placate the spirits of the forest and field, to honor the house spirits, dead ancestors, and the souls of the living members of the family as well as the souls of the family's livestock. Shamans burned the jaws of the pigs that were given in payment for their services during the year so that the souls of the sacrificed animals could be reincarnated. It was a time to honor all beings living and dead, to show gratitude for whatever help they had given the family during the year, and if the year had not been so good, the time to placate them in hopes that the new year would bring better fortune.

The festival lasted three days. Except for the time reserved for ritual sacrifices, during those three days Hmong, young and old, visited friends and relatives, ate and drank, and played games from morning to dusk.

Source:   Hmong: History of a People by Keith Quincy. Cheney, Washington: Eastern Washington University, 1989, pp. 92-99.

Hong Kong and China

On this day everyone becomes a year older, as age is calculated by the year in which one was born, rather than from the actual date of birth. A special family dinner is held to celebrate New Year. Parents give children red packets with money inside. These are often tucked under the sleeping children's pillow at night.

Traditionally the head of the family offered incense and respect to the family ancestors and their guardian spirits on New Year's Eve, then locked and sealed the doors of the house by midnight to keep out the evil spirits which roamed on this night. The thousands of firecrackers exploded were also effective in frightening away those spirits. At dawn the doors were reopened and the ancestors and guardians paid honor to once more. On this morning, the Kitchen God returned from his visit to Heaven.

On New Year's Day, no meat was eaten, a symbol of renewal. No work, especially sweeping, could be done for days and no knives or scissors could be used. Breaking or tearing of things, or stumbling or falling were bad omens. Even words with bad meanings should not be spoken. In fact, even words sounding like these bad words must be avoided.

Like the Kitchen God, the God of Wealth has a place in the traditional home. His presence is represented by a picture on a strip of red paper with his name scribed on it. On New Year's Eve children sell Wealth God pictures. On day 2 of the New Year, the new God of Wealth pictures replace the old.

In northern China the New Year was celebrated with lantern processions, masked parades and dragon dances.

Source: Chinese Festivals (In Hong Kong) by Joan Law and Barbara E. Ward. Hong Kong: A South China Morning Production, 1982, p. 8.

Japan
Oshogatsu

Now celebrated January 1- 15, Oshogatsu extends for the first fifteen days of the New Year. Businesses are closed for the first three days and homes are thoroughly cleaned and all debts are paid before the New Year begins. Homes may be decorated with sacred straw ropes and pine boughs. Visitors are received and visits are made to friends and relatives. Gifts are given to servants and friends. A special bonfire at the end of the fifteen days may burn the straw or pine decorations of the season.

Foremost among the New Year's decorations is the sambo, or raised tray of plain wood, with its mochi cakes made of steamed and pounded glutinous rice. For New Year, an unusually large sized mochi is made; thick, perfectly circular disks with a rounded edge, flat underneath and only slightly convex on top. Because of their size, shape and white color, these cakes are sometimes compared with the moon, but New Year mochi is more generally compared with a round mirror (known as kagami mochi).

The New Year's day usually begins with prayers to the gods and the spirits of one's forefathers before the domestic shrine. The New Year being a fresh start in life, the people give thanks for the past and pray for a future blessed with greater prosperity and greater happiness than ever. Then, having done one's best to enlist the help of the supernatural beings, the rest of the day is spent on games of battledore and shuttlecock for the women and kite-flying by the boys and men.

The flower arrangement for the New Year is the one known as sho-chiku-bai: pine, bamboo, and plum. These three are arranged on a tray as miniature plants and not as cut flowers. One of the most acceptable New Year gifts is a tray arranged with its sho-chiku-bai, and all the happy and congratulatory meaning which it carries with it.

New Year is one of the most important celebrations of the year for the Japanese family. Thus a whole range of special dishes, including o-sechi, rice cakes and o-toso (sweet rice wine), have become associated with the festivities. Cooked beans and tangle, grilled salmon and sea braum have become indispensable parts of the New Year's menu.

Since entertaining is part of the New Year tradition, it has become customary for housewives to prepare o-sechi dishes in advance so that they can be eaten over the first few days of the New Year.

For some traditional Japanese New Year's dishes, click here.

Sources:  

The image used herein were obtained from IMSI's MasterClips® and MasterPhotos™ Premium Image Collection, 1895 Francisco Blvd., East, San Rafael, CA 94901-5506, USA.

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