The True Meaning of New Year

The first day of the New Year is traditionally the most symbolic festival of the year. In Kyoto, it is celebrated with family members at home; most businesses and public services are closed. I noticed that even the in-patient section of a hospital near my home was not in service!

The first order of the day is a visit to the Shinto shrine or Buddhist temple. This practice can be traced back over a thousand years. It is known as the hatsumode (初詣) which means the first pilgrimage. Many Kyotoites dress up in kimono attire, bear with the winter cold, and queue to pay respect to the divine and say a prayer. They also ring the sacred bell for blessings for the coming year. One of the most popular destinations is the Fushimi-Inari Shrine, which over 3 million people visited during the first 3 days of the New Year! On the first day at 6 am, a special ceremony is held. It is called the saitansai (歳旦祭) which literally means a “new year ceremony when the sun rises”! Although my home is only a short walk away, I dare not brave the cold to visit it, rather, I perform a simple ritual at home. In the morning, I attend to my garden and ask for permission to cut off a branch with red berries for the altar. 2023 is the year of the rabbit, and for me, born in the year of the rabbit, finding rabbit decorative pieces is easy, as I received many as birthday gifts.

I set up these offerings to honor the divine and give thanks for everything. I do not pray for something to be given to me, such as, good fortune, health, or good relationships. Instead, I pray for self-awakening and living in my true self. This is because when we pray to the divine, we are skipping the steps of experiencing, expressing, learning and growing through our own life journey. We are asking for an outcome that is gratifying only to our ego. In essence, we are dis-empowering ourselves with wishful thoughts which means that we think we lack them or that we do not deserve to have them in the present moment.

The true meaning of New Year is in our conviction to live in our soul and spirit. It is not about the new year itself but the renewed self. There is an aliveness in you to greet the day with a new elevated consciousness, in thoughts, expressions and actions. In the process, you will also embrace the challenges instead of avoiding them out of fear. And you will expand your Light qualities.

De-Light Note

  • When you pray, intend and know what you desire instead of just hoping to have something.
  • Live life as if every moment is new, just like the first day of new year. Whenever you are aware of old patterns, replace them with elevated thoughts and emotions.