In North America, Christmas is one of the biggest annual holidays, but in Japan the most important and elaborate holiday is Oshogatsu—the celebration of the New Year.
Oshogatsu is typically spent with family. More than just a day, the New Year’s holiday typically lasts for a week. This time of the year is full of rich traditions.
Observed during the days leading up to New Year’s Eve, osoji (“cleaning”) is part of the Oshogatsu ritual—a Japanese equivalent of “spring cleaning.” This is observed near the end of the year because the Japanese believe this is a good time to “purify” one’s environment—allowing for a fresh start for the coming twelve months. Osoji has its origins in the religious significance of purification. In Japan, a great deal of time is often spent cleaning up houses, shops and offices.
Once the house is clean, a lot of cooking begins in preparation for the traditional New Year’s meals. On New Year’s Eve, soba noodles are served in houses and temples across Japan just before midnight and eaten as the New Year arrives.
We encourage everyone to celebrate Oshogatsu. Whether your New Year’s celebration is ceremonial or merely culinary, it brings people closer to one another. An important social custom of Oshogatsu is to wish each person you see a Happy New Year.
Oshogatsu description from The Japanese American National Museum.