Ring out the old, ring in the new

Ringing in the New Year is always a special time of celebration. It is a time ripe with the promise of new beginnings. Full of hope for change and growth.
But let’s face it, in our culture the New Year is primarily an opportunity to have a vacation day and a chance to celebrate with friends and family.
In Japan, on the other hand, the New Year is taken much more seriously. A well-known Japanese proverb says, “New Year’s Day is the key to unlock the year.”
To prepare for this new beginning, the Japanese people spend much of December finishing up the business of the old year. They try to pay off all their debts and complete unfinished projects.
Housewives shop and cook special dishes. And they do deep cleaning (much like our spring cleaning). They want to get rid of the dirt of the past year and welcome the New Year with fresh and serene minds.
Business people clean their workplaces and clear the shelves to make room for new merchandise.
The New Year also is a time for reconnecting with friends and family, so each person sends anywhere from 20 to several hundred cards timed to arrive on New Year’s Day.
Thus, they keep in touch with old friends and acquaintances, especially sending “thank yous” and giving support to people who have suffered the loss of loved ones.
In December, the Japanese have special parties called “bonenkai,” which means “forgetting the old year.” Because, in order to unlock the New Year, you must first let go of the old one.
All preparations for the holiday are completed by New Year’s Eve. And the holiday, which lasts several days, is ushered in with 108 peals of the bells in the local temple.
The New Year’s holiday is a time for both social and spiritual renewal.
It’s a time to pay calls on friends and relatives. The trains are packed with sons and daughters returning to their parents’ homes.
Many people visit shrines to pray for safety, happiness, and long lives for their families. And friends and family gather around the table eating thin long noodles to ensure prosperity and longevity.
As you enter this fresh year of 2004, what can you learn from these Japanese traditions?
Are there tasks you must complete or bills to pay in order to truly start the year with a clean slate? Are there people you should thank or grieving friends you could console? Is there clutter to remove from your house or your life?
Perhaps you made New Year’s resolutions to pursue these goals. But how much better to actually achieve the goals and then start the New Year fresh. Too often we burden ourselves with resolutions that we are not likely to keep and set ourselves up for failure.
Even though the New Year is about to begin, you still can complete the work of the old year. But perhaps you could set your own New Year’s date—Feb. 1, for instance—and make a list of what you would like to accomplish before that date.
When Feb. 1 arrives, celebrate all that you have completed and enter 2004 with a clean slate.
Marie Snider is an award-winning health care writer and syndicated columnist. Write her at thisside60@aol.com or visit www.visit-snider.com

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