In the United States, New Year’s Eve is considered a holiday for most adults. Hopefully your baby or toddler will not be awake at midnight when the clock turns over to a new calendar year.
For the Japanese, New Year’s is the most important family holiday, much the same as Christmas is for many in the West. In preparation, the last week of December is spent cleaning, paying debts, reflecting on the past year, looking toward a fresh start, and cooking special foods for the first three days of the year. On New Year’s Eve, long buckwheat noodles are served at dinner as a symbol of longevity, and New Year’s Day may begin with a viewing of the first sunrise or a trip to a temple or shrine to welcome the gods of the new year.
Mochitsuki, or a mochi-making gathering, is a New Year’s tradition that is associated with good fortune, health, and success. It is usually toasted over a hibachi to eat with vegetables and fish that are made and stored in stacked, lacquered bento boxes. Children look forward to the special treats and gifts that they receive on this annual holiday. The whole family enjoys the first three days of the year eating together, telling stories, playing games, and sitting around the kotatsu, a Japanese table that has a blanket that goes over the top with a space heater underneath.
The Chinese New Year occurs on a different date each year, set by the lunar calendar. It is usually at the second new moon following the winter solstice, between late January and early to mid-February. Central to the cycle of planting new crops, this celebration is the most important holiday in many parts of Asia. This is a time for families to get together in a spirit of joy, optimism, and feasting. Cultures that celebrate Chinese New Year have many special foods on this occasion, especially those that promise good fortune, prosperity, and an optimistic outlook.