Well, the winter solstice is behind us, and the Earth turns once again in our hemisphere toward the light. I hope the new year brings us understanding and reconciliation, the ability to move off our frozen positions and find common ground, the desire to seek the higher good.
When I think of celebration, I think few on Maui did it better than the folks, mostly Japanese, in the close-knit plantation communities of the 1930s. New Year's Day was the biggest holiday of the year, and people prepared for it weeks in advance.
An essential offering was mochi. "You steamed the rice, and while it's still hot, you pound it to make it into a paste. And then you roll it in the flour and take little gobs of it and roll it in your palm and make a mochi cake," Sam Hironaka, who grew up in Paia's Nashiwa Camp, told me. The mochi usually had a black bean paste inside.
Then there was the preparation of osechi, small delicacies to signify good luck and long life that were part of a big New Year's Day feast to provide a feeling of prosperity. This could include ozoni, a stew with chicken and vegetables; nishime, cooked vegetables; sushi, sashimi and yokan, a gelatinous black bean cake made with sugar and agar, colored red, green or white and sliced into small pieces.
The house would be spotlessly clean, new or freshly cleaned clothes laid out, and the front door decorated with bamboo and pine cut and stapled on both sides of the door. "If you don't have that you can go to the beach," Matsuko Matsumoto, who grew up in Kaheka Camp, told me. "They have those wild pines there." Ironwoods.
Japanese families usually had a Shinto altar in the living room where rice and tea were offered to the ancestors during the year. For New Year's, according to Matsumoto, people would put small branches of pine and yellow and green croton in a small vase on the shrine, not flowers.
Then, at midnight on New Year's Eve, people walked quietly in the darkness to the Buddhist temple to receive blessings and "omamori," good luck amulets to place on the shrine for the coming year. The temple was decorated with a rice straw rope, a gesture to welcome the New Year and ward off misfortune.
Early in the morning, families walked to a community hall where the men would have a little "sake" for purification and everyone would repeat the banzai three times. "Tenoheka, banzai!" Long live the Emperor!
The women returned to their homes, where they would spend the day serving guests while the men would roam from house to house paying calls. (Doesn't sound quite fair, does it?) The Filipinos in the village would join in with the feasting and the visiting and liven the day with their music.
When the great day ended, worn out or not, it was back to the early-morning summons and the hard life of the fields.
In Honolulu, people of all ethnicities lined up in the wee hours of the morning to participate in the "shogatsu," New Year's rituals to ensure an auspicious start. On Maui, the Wailuku Shingon mission headed by the Rev. George Kitagawa offered a New Year's Eve service. Last night at 11:45, the temple bell rang 108 times to symbolically purify karma and people walked into the temple to receive omamori and a blessing. On Sunday at 9:30 a.m., the mission will offer a fire ritual for purification, where participants will receive a piece of kombu, a seaweed that signifies happiness; a piece of cuttlefish, hard to chew, thus giving the virtue of tenacity; and some sake, for cleansing.
Shintoism is the indigenous, nature-based folk religion of Japan, dating back to 200 BC, emphasizing the harmony of nature and the presence of gods in all living things. It precedes Buddhism as the predominant faith of the country. According to Pat Gee's article in the Honolulu Star-Advertiser, Buddhists follow the Chinese lunar calendar and will observe the beginning of the Year of the Snake on Feb. 10, but they have celebrated the new year as Westerners do since 1873, when Japan adopted the Gregorian calendar.
The Rev. Reyn Tsuru of Shingon Shu Hawaii predicts that the coming snake year will bring in more stability than the tumultuous dragon year of 2012. The snake's methodical and calculating ways may not offer an especially rosy year, but it will temper the chaos that the dragon left behind.
I gave my mother a traditional "kadomatsu," three stalks of bamboo and some pine, which she promptly put on the piano. The mochi paper of a blazing sun rising over Mount Fuji, two hawks flying and gourds in the foreground, went on the refrigerator.
No matter the difficulties that may await us in 2013, may we all know the warmth of community and the joy of sharing.
May we all be protected. May we all be blessed.
* Laurel Murphy is a former staff writer for The Maui News whose "Keiki o ka 'Aina" column appears each Tuesday. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.