Holidays and Regular Observances

What annual festivities do Shinto practitioners celebrate?

“Five seasonal days” (gosekku) celebrate simple but essential blessings. Timing of the five seasonal days is still based on the lunar calendar, but transferred to the solar months. For example, the days were originally observed on the third day of the third lunar month, the fifth of the fifth, the seventh of the seventh, and the ninth of the ninth. The days now retain the same position, but in solar months of the same numbers. Seven Herbs Day now falls on January 7, when people greet the spring with a specially seasoned soup. For Hina-matsuri, or Doll Festival (nowadays called Girls’ Day) on March 3, many people reenact the ancient practice of floating clay or paper dolls on a river or the sea to ensure the health of their daughters. Boys’ Day (kodomo-no-hi) falls on May 5, when little boys receive dolls of heroic figures who model valor and loyalty. On July 7, Tanabata, or “Seventh Night,” recalls the Chinese story of the celestial cowboy and the weaver maid, condemned to be distant stars forever because their romance caused them to slacken their labors. On this night the two reunite briefly on the bridge of the Milky Way. Farmers and textile workers take the opportunity to pray for success in their occupations. Finally, Chrysanthemum Day (kiku-no-sekku) falls on the ninth of September. Many still go to local shrines to appreciate the beautifully cultivated flower, which became the official symbol of the emperor during the Meiji era in the mid-nineteenth century. One curious period calculated by the lunar calendar (equivalent to October usually) sees all shrines sending off their kami to the Izumo Taisha, where they stay together for a spell before moving for similar brief visits to two other shrines. At their home shrines, worshippers observe “a month without kami” (kami-na-zuki).


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