When I think about New Years, I think of...
1. House cleaning
New Years preparations always begin with house cleaning before New Years day. My mom says that you need to sweep out all the bad spirits accumulated over the past year, but you don't clean on New Years day because its a good luck day and you might sweep out good spirits instead.
Just to be on the safe side, I plan on not doing any cleaning for the entire month of January.
2. Mochi (rice cakes)
Not only the name of my cat, but one of my favorite foods. During the week between Christmas and New Years we used to gather at my uncle's house for mochi tsuki or pounding and making of rice cakes. We always pounded it the old fashioned way with a usu (mortar) and wooden mallet, but as everyone's gotten older we've recently switched to electronic mochi makers that do all the work for us. Just today my mom's mochi maker did the pounding of 10 men while she read the newspaper.
3. Ozoni (mochi soup)
It's customary on New Years to eat ozoni for strength and prosperity. At my house eating ozoni is not optional - my mom will chase you around with a bowl of ozoni until you succumb. This is of course due to the fact that she's already consumed large quantities of ozoni and therefore has the strength to wear you down until you eat some.
I actually love ozoni, and eat lots of it at New Years although I have yet to notice an increase in either my muscle tone or pocketbook.
4. Soba (buckwheat noodles)
Soba is eaten on New Years eve for long life. I'm not a big soba fan but since I neither eat right nor exercise much, I always make sure to have some.
Kadomatsu (like the one in the first photo) are placed at the entrances to houses. The pine represents longevity, and the bamboo represent strength and flexibility.
6. Kagami mochi
Kagami mochi consist of a small round mochi cake stacked on a larger one and topped with a tangerine and which are displayed throughout the house, at work and sometimes even in ones car.
In Hawaii, the eve also means fireworks - lots and lots of them. Popping firecrackers is a Chinese custom done to chase away bad spirits but over the years its become a tradition for everyone in Hawaii. Driving around Oahu on the eve, every corner of the sky is lit up with aerial fireworks (many of them illegal) and you also see hoists rigged onto garage roofs strung up with yards of bundled firecrackers.
At midnight it really gets crazy with everyone setting off bundles of 10,000 50,000 and even 100,000 firecrackers all at once. No matter where you are, the sound is deafening and the smoke generated can be an asthmatic's nightmare. I've driven home from parties early New Year's morning where the smoke is so thick its hard to see even 10 feet in front of your car.
8. Kohaku Uta Gassen
On New Years day we always watch the NHK Red and White Song Contest which features the top singers and music acts in Japan in a men versus women song competition. I don't keep up with Japanese music anymore but it's always entertaining to watch.
Buddy, Mr. T and I are refraining from the fireworks this year and instead celebrating the eve with ear plugs and Dick Clark. And on New Years Day we're off to my aunties for lots of good food and fun.
However you celebrate, I hope you have a healthy, happy and prosperous Year of the Dog!