Shinnen Akemashite Omedetou Gozaimasu

The new year (oshogatsu) is particularly important in the Japanese tradition. It represents the chance for a fresh start, with proper preparation, of course. December is spent in purification, cleaning house (osoji), both literally and figuatively, in order to begin the new year with a clean slate, decorating with pine and bamboo kadomatsu for good luck, and sending New Year's postcards (nengajo).

For those interested in learning more about oshogatsu in general, the Japanese American National Museum has a good, but concise description. Wikipedia also has an overview. I could have sworn I wrote a more comprehensive blog entry about oshogatsu a few years ago, but I can't find it!
Kinpira, gobo (burdock root) and carrot
I julienne them with a knife, because food processors make the pieces too small

The final days of the year are spent cooking food with special significance with regard to health, longevity, prosperity and fertility (osechi) so the first few days of the new year can be spent with family. Some descriptions of osechi can be found at bento.com or norecipes.com and Yuka Yamaguchi also has a few recipes on her blog. Even though I can buy osechi at the local Japanese grocer, I still make my own. Since this is the only tradition I really observe, I figure I should do it correctly. Plus, the stuff is expensive!
Nishime in one of Grandma's Imari dishes
Includes renkon (lotus root), gobo (burdock root), 
takenoko (bamboo shoot), konnyaku (potato starch)

As you know, this year, actually the last two years, have not been the best, financially, socially, emotionally. I even lost a cherished friend, who brought only kindness to the table when all I brought was drama. I knew I was being unreasonable, but couldn't help myself. It is in my nature to push those I care about away from me and completely alienate them. I wrote recently about how people move in and out of our lives, but what I didn't mention is that those who leave due to our own foolishness hurt the most.

The last two years I've strayed from the tradition of opening my house during Oshogatsu. Maybe beginning the year on the wrong foot jinxed me. On top of that, one month after the current year began I turned 43 and thus began the 44th year of my life. 4 is bad luck in Asian cultures that have been influenced by the Chinese, because it is a homophone for death. 44 must be doubly bad.

As December ticks down to the new year I hope to begin it on the right foot, just in case. I am currently making much-needed repairs on the house, organizing bills to be paid before year's end, gathering my house cleaning supplies, prepping my cookware and shopping lists, and making sure the tv works for my grousing dad, so that I can start the year with a clean slate and focus on spending time with my family and closest friends during Oshogatsu. And of course, as a hedge, one month later, I'll be beginning the 45th year here.