of the Year Greetings!
O, DH, and Freddy B
Wherever they are is the sweetest spot
in the white room -- our backyard in the wintertime.
Rested up and energized,
we drove back to the flatlands, ready to tackle the final and
intense preparation for our traditional New Year's Party for our
It's a multi-cultural,
island-style celebration, a potpourri of Hawaiian, Chinese, Korean,
American and Japanese influences. I am grateful to my parents
and grandparents for keeping their traditions vibrant and alive and
passing them on to us, their children and grandchildren. I
remember those special New Year celebrations with a full, grateful
and nostalgically happy heart.
Although we are half an
ocean away from our homeland and our blood relatives, in gratitude,
we wish to pass these traditions on to those we love here on the
mainland. "They" are our adopted family or 'ohana
hana`i, who are also far away from their parents' island roots, as
well as their grandparents. Perhaps, some of these traditions will stick and
get passed on, to be enjoyed by their future families and
generations to come.
traditions bind the past with the present, forming a strong
foundation of family and meaningful ties for the future, thereby creating
a seamless flow of life.
Growing up in Hawai`i,
New Year's preparation started right after Christmas.
House-cleaning and decluttering were the top priorities. Windows and
screens were washed and cleaned; furniture was polished; and drawers
and closets were cleaned out and straightened. In Hawai`i, as in Japan, our
"spring cleaning" is actually post-Christmas cleaning as
the new year god that brings good luck visits only clean,
Or so we were told -- or
brainwashed to believe. It worked. We cleaned.
On New Year's Eve, we
decorated each room with two rounded mochi (rice
cakes), symbolizing the sun and moon, topped with the choicest
tangerines picked from our backyard trees with stems and leaves
still attached. The many seeds of the tangerine symbolized good
fortune through offspring.
Of course, I knew none
of this symbolism as a child.
New Year's Day was first
traditionally spent with my immediate family members and close
relatives. In my family, after we had all our morning baths and
donned our new clothes, we were visited by our neighbors, and then
my family, aunty, uncle, and cousins would gather at our maternal
grandparents' house to pay our respects to our ancestors at the
family altar and offer incense in remembrance.
Then, the the adults
would pour sake and toast in the new year by thanking
and wishing each other a prosperous and healthy year, while we kids
swilled soda like water, an indulgence reserved for birthday
parties, funerals and New Year's Day. We'd
all gather around the big family table to wolf down an early lunch
of traditional dishes, prepared by our grandmother.
Japanese rice wine, served hot on New Year's Day.
Sake is pronounced sah keh' with the accent on the second
and NOT sack' key as is often mispronounced.
The Japanese are too
polite to correct this gross mispronunciation and just let it slide.
I'm Americanized, and believing that maybe you'd like to say it
correctly and not wish to perpetuate a mispronunciation, I've
included this little lesson.
Most of the foods eaten
at New Year's are those considered to be auspicious -- among them
are kuromame (sweet black beans for health ), kazunoko
(a briny herring roe which represents "treasure that is
children," i.e., fertility), gobo (burdock root
for strong family ties) and kombu (rolled kelp is a play on
the word yorokobu, which means delight, joy or gladness).
My grandmother ALWAYS
made sure we had at least one kuromame
(black bean) to
stay mamena (healthy); ate some of her nishime,
Japanese stew made with several of the aforementioned auspicious
foods and namasu,
a cucumber salad; and helped ourselves to the morimono (the
dessert platter) with yokan (Japanese
sweet bean jelly),
decoratively cut oranges, small grape clusters, kamaboko
(decorative fishcakes, symbolizing sunrise) and home-made
Japanese "jello" called kanten, which I just
learned today may have anti-cancer
It is only after
learning the symbolism of these foods that I realized that her
insistence was never for her sake, as she was a well-known cook n
our village without the slightest need for our kid approval, but always for the
sake of our health, family ties, and personal joy.
She was not
demonstrative, and in retrospect, I see that this was her way of
showing her love, affection and concern to us. My heart warms to think of
her kindnesses to us now, although she is long gone from this Earth.
I now have a far greater appreciation of the work, time, and effort that
went into preparing her feast for us.
Our family would then pile into the car and go our separate way to join the partying with
my parent's social circle -- truth be told, my dad's poker bunch and
their wives and kids -- held on a rotating basis at one of their
My mother was known for her tasty island-style
potato-macaroni crab salad (now DH's signature pot luck dish) with
her secret ingredients of sweet pickle relish, grated onion and lots
of eggs, prepared ahead on New Year's eve, and her generously
stuffed won ton, deep fried on New Year's morning; these were her
usual contributions to the potluck. Both are labor-intensive
dishes, and early on, we were recruited to help with their
Again, we'd gather
around the tables laden with multicultural island foods, usually
makeshift tables of wooden planks on short wooden horses and covered
with meat paper, lined up lengthwise in the garage.
We'd sit on zabuton (cotton-filled cushions) on the
garage floor, covered with goza (reed mats).
We'd eat up a storm,
then run outside to play fireworks and games, while our parents sat
around the tables talking story and drinking with their friends.
There were nearly thirty of us children running around, playing and
getting into lots and lots of mischief. Miraculously, we all
grew to adulthood with fingers, eyes and eardrums intact, in spite
of our excited, sugar-stoked exploding of fireworks to drive away
Except for the fireworks
which are banned here, these are some of the island traditions we
seek to preserve for our adopted family here on the mainland and the
future generations, even if we are far away from our homeland of
So, today, on the way
back from the mountains, we stopped at Nippon Foods in Anaheim to
pick up the traditional New Year vegetables for the morning soup,
including mochi, mizuna (Japanese
watercress), daikon (Japanese turnip which represents
longevity and a strong family foundation), carrots, and other
The rest of the day was
spent cleaning the house from top to bottom. The process is
called susuharai, its purpose is to rub out the
uncleanliness of the old year and purify the new. We cleaned our
house as ritual dictates, and we also cleaned our inner houses, spiritually, by letting
go of ill feelings and forgiving those who have hurt us, knowingly
and unknowingly. Just as we decluttered physically, we got rid of the
past year's useless emotional baggage, including any worries,
concerns, and negativities.
In Japan, years are
traditionally seen as completely separate from each other, and the
new year as a fresh start. January 1st is traditionally believed to
be representative for the whole year that has just commenced.
Therefore, the day should be full of joy and free of stress, anger
We intend to start 2002
with a clean slate.
And so, DH and I
carefully organized the serving areas: the dessert table, the sake
table, the drinks area, the potluck table, and the dining room
The fun, creative part,
just as in my childhood, was gussying up the place.
To our parents,
grandparents and ancestors, "Osewanarimashita and Aloha." We are forever indebted to you.
"Life is a Gift."
P.S. If you would
like to share a portion of yourself with words, in response to
this journal entry, you may do it here.
only gift is a portion of thyself..."
Ralph Waldo Emerson
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