New Year’s celebrations have recently passed, and people are busy taking down decorations and finishing leftovers. Those in Japan may have celebrated by visiting a shrine or eating special new year’s food over a period of days. In addition to traditional ways of welcoming the new year, there are also traditional ways of clean-up.
Visitors flood to local and faraway shrines during the first few days of the new year, a practice known as hatsumode. Many of these people go to pay their respects and pray for good fortune in the future. Common offerings at shrines are lucky or protective amulets and fortunes written on small strips of paper, along with other objects of fortune.
Traditionally, these items are kept for a year and then discarded to make room for new ones. One cannot simply toss lucky items into the trash, however, and doing so would invite horrendously bad luck. Instead, a Dondo Yaki ceremony is performed, which is essentially a huge bonfire.
The event takes place in mid January, on either the 15th, 18th, or weekend closest to those dates. While the exact ceremony differs from shrine to shrine, the bonfire is the key element. People toss in previous year’s lucky items in a symbolic gesture of ending the last year. Along with the usual amulets and fortunes, daruma dolls, a symbol of perseverance and luck, are burned as well. Other activities include roasting mochi and other treats on sticks by the fire.
The bonfire represents more than just starting off on a fresh beginning. Some say that the fire holds tremendous power, and the closer you stand, the younger you will become. Other beliefs include healthy crops if the ashes are sprinkled on the fields, and a healthy constitution if food grilled in the fire is eaten.
The new year is a time for reflection, happiness, and wishes, and the ceremony brings people together as they look forward to a bright future. Though the fire burns everything away and leaves only grey ash, it signifies not a solemn end but a brilliant new beginning. Take this time to remember that people are not so different after all, and we are all moving forward to become even better people in an even better world.
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