When is New Year’s in Japan Really Over?

Source: Gaijin Pot

My wife took down the shime kazari the other day.

Shime kazari are the New Year’s decorations you find hanging on front doors and gates at Oshogatsu (the first three to 15 days of the New Year). Traditionally made with twisted rice straw, they are festooned with a daidai (bitter orange), fern fronds and gohei or shide (zigzag strips of white paper), the ornaments serve to welcome Toshigami-sama, the deity who brings a bountiful harvest and blessings for the new year.

Modern designs, like ours, take great liberties with the original, adding generous loops of red-and-white mizuhiki (decorative cords of twisted paper), pine branches, colorful washi (Japanese paper), auspicious doodads and occasionally fresh flowers.

I asked my wife what she was doing.

“Shogatsu is over… ”

“Says who?”

“My parents already took down their shime kazari.”

“So? I paid ¥4,000 for that. Put it back, please!”

“But… ”

There’s quite a bit of debate about when you should take your New Year’s decorations down. Regional variations have something to do with it — why, even the design of the shime kazari themselves can vary greatly from region to region — but so do different interpretations of when shogatsu is officially concluded.

A similar discussion exists in the West concerning when Christmas trees should be tossed out. Is it the Feast of the Epiphany, which falls on Jan. 6 (hence the 12 Days of Christmas)? Or should the tree and other holiday decorations remain until Candlemas, which falls on Feb. 2, i.e. 40 days after the nativity of Jesus? Thanks to Christmas tree recycling drives hosted by the Boy Scouts in early January, in America at least, …continue reading