By Pastor Karen Yokota Love | Additional Photos by Wikipedia and Patrick Scriven
Believe it or not, the most important holiday in my family wasn’t Christmas, but it was celebrating New Year’s. The New Year symbolizes a time of change for the better. And, yes, I’m guilty of making my list of resolutions and by mid-January; they are often compromised and forgotten. However, I hold on to the symbol of the New Year — it’s a chance to create change, a chance to start afresh, a chance to enjoy the company of friends and family. (And, if I can’t get it right on January 1, I tend to try some of these changes at the beginning of Lent.)
Growing up and identifying as a yonsei, or fourth generation Japanese American, my family would begin preparing for these changes for the New Year immediately after Christmas Day. We begin cleaning all crevasses of the house. (I would shove stuff into closets, and under the bed, but that would be considered cheating — don’t tell my Mom.)
It’s a big deal in the Japanese tradition to take care of any loose ends before the start of a new year. The New Year symbolizes a time for setting things straight: a thorough housecleaning, paying off debts, returning borrowed items, reflecting on one’s shortcomings with the hope to improve on those in the year to come, mending arguments, and giving alms.
While working on all of these things, we also begin multiple days of cooking so that all food is prepared for January 1. Growing up, my grandmother would cook a variety of “good luck” food called osechi. Over the years, my aunties and uncles, parents and cousins would cook — we cooked together for days! It was a lot of work but so much fun!
Osechi is served only on New Year’s Day and is a special kind of food — let’s just say that you wouldn’t find much of this food in a Japanese restaurant during the year. Each food symbolizes good luck or good meaning for the New Year. A few examples include: gobo (braised burdock root) which means best wishes for a good harvest; kuromame (black soy beans), “mame” means health so I eat an abundance for good health in the year to come; kamaboko (fish cake): it’s a bright pink and white fish cake that is often found in soups. It’s shaped in a half-moon, symbolizing the rising sun.
Typically for breakfast, we eat a soup called ozoni. The soup is considered auspicious and considered a sacred food. Ozoni is a soup filled with mochi (pounded rice cake). It’s usually made with chicken stock, carrots, kamaboko, and daikon radish. Each family has their own variation.
Looking back, these memories are priceless treasures. Since I identify myself as an American of Japanese decent, New Year’s has become more symbolic for me being able to fully connect with my ethnic roots and my Japanese identity.
As I prepare and apply for full-ordination Elder track with the Board of Ordained Ministry, I’ll be spending my Christmas/New Year’s time writing and pulling together all of the loose ends before all ordination paperwork is due, mid-January. This will be the first year where I won’t see my extended family (usually my parents will make a trek to the Pacific Northwest for New Year’s) or I head home to California to participate in the festive celebration.
Instead, I will practice all that I’ve learned in my own household. This year, I will attempt to cook some of these foods on my own with my husband, Jesse. Jesse is Filipino American and I see this as an opportunity to teach him about my background and culture — while creating new traditions.
My hope is that with all of the learning and years of observing and participating in these Japanese traditions, I will one day, be able to pass these on to my own children and also teach the people who I serve in the local church a little bit about who I am and what makes me, me.
Embracing Interfaith Cooperation (D1061)
Eboo Patel believes that religion is a bridge of cooperation rather than a barrier of division. As a well-known speaker and author, Eboo is inspired to build bridges of cooperation out of diversity. He is a Muslim, American of Indian heritage and in this video he leads a small group of adults including Jews, Muslims, Christians and Hindis in an exploration of both the challenge and necessity of Interfaith Cooperation. Eboo Patel writes regularly for The Washington Post, The Huffington Post and USA Today. He lives and works in Chicago, home of the Interfaith Youth Core, which he founded. He regularly share his vision of Interfaith Cooperation at places like the TED Conference, the Clinton Global Initiative and the Nobel Peace Prize Forum as well as at college and university campuses across the nation.