Holidays and Regular Observances

How does the Shinto tradition determine specific days for festivities?

Carrying on the Chinese custom, Shinto tradition has designated certain days each month auspicious and certain others inauspicious for religious celebrations. The days most favored include the four each lunar month that correspond with the new and full moons (the first and fifteenth) and waxing and waning half-moons (around the seventh/eighth and twenty-second/third). Since solar months are longer than lunar months, festivals that retain the same day- and month-numbers they once had in the lunar calendar (e.g. seventh of the seventh) do not always correspond perfectly with the lunar event that originally made certain days auspicious and others not. Calculation of the beginning of a festival day begins with the eve of the feast (yoi-matsuri). Festal days begin at sunset on the eve and last through sunset of the actual festival day (hon-matsuri). Japanese call the actual day of a feast saijitsu. Large-scale annual matsuri associated with a particular shrine, such as observance of the anniversary of the shrine’s founding, are called reisai, “regular festivals.” These are distinguished from lesser festivals or national occasions such as those associated with the imperial household.


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