Sunday, February 8, 2009

Lantern Festival

Hello, everybody.  As you may or may not know, the Chinese Lantern Festival (Koshōgatsu), is a celebration that takes place just after the Chinese New Year, bringing those festivities to a close.  It also happens to be tomorrow.  The festival involves, oddly enough, lanterns, and the carrying of them to shrines.  The style and size of the lantern you carry will naturally vary, many people just before this time of year will take to making and setting out eye-catching lanterns.  I have seen a very old gentleman who had, in his youth, learned to make lanterns, and a few weeks before every Lantern Festival, he would set his work aside and dedicate himself to fashioning many lanterns in the shape of animals and hang them outside his home, showing the trade to children and more often than not, having the majority of them bought up in preparation for the festivities.  I know it all sounds like the plot to some trite and very precious children's movie about growing up and respecting your elders, but guys like this really do exist and are just cool.

So when you have your lantern, you and your family will set out, and head to any and all shrines within walking distance that catch your fancy.  Depending on your location, there may be many stands set up with snacks to buy and games to play, and many lanterns will have little puzzles on them to be solved.  It's all very traditional and really exciting.  The evening will end with a bonfire at your shrine, lit between a torii and symbolizing the destruction of all bad luck.  More often than not, you will also partake in some superstitious activity to rid yourself of bad luck and bring good luck in the New Year.

The point of this festival is to bring families together to face the New Year, and to connect with them as well as with nature and religion, and to generally have a good time and fill the next year of your life with "light".  Aha! 

This practice is celebrated the world over, really, and the activities will vary, but the general mood and actions are the same.  You have your family, you have your lantern, you eat some snacks, you have fun.  In America, I know that there are superstitions to eat black eyed peas and spinich on New Year, though I'm not entirely sure why.  I think the spinach is supposed to represent money, and wealth to come in the next year.  Can anybody fill me in?  Anyway, since the Lantern Festival isn't exactly a national holiday here in America, and there isn't a Shinto shrine within walking distance of where I live, my Lantern Festival will be considerably less interesting. 

I still have this cake left over from New Year, my family will eat that.

And since it also is a full moon, of course, my mother has decided that we will have a traditional moon-viewing festival, which is basically an excuse to drink good sake and dress in wafuku.  Despite doing this every day, and the actual festival being held in August, each month when she gets bored, my mother declares it moon-viewing day, and when it's a full moon we drink and tell ghost stories.  Even though this entry is making me sound like a stock character from xxxHOLiC, I will press onward and share with you all some more interesting facts about, what else, lanterns.