New Year’s Day: Shogatsu, the Solemnity of Mary and Feast of St. Basil

Platters in gold of lobster and other fancy Japanese delicacies

Traditional Japanese New Year’s foods. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

THURSDAY, JANUARY 1: The Gregorian year 2015 rings in at midnight, and around the world, parades, games and greetings fill the streets while traditional dishes fill tables in homes. Cultural customs vary from parades and football in the United States to ancestor tributes in Korea. Polar Bear Club plunges—jumping into icy-cold bodies of water—have been steadily gaining popularity in Canada, the United States, the UK, the Netherlands and the Republic of Ireland, and in many areas, family and friends will gather for a New Year’s Day brunch. (Find interactive information and history at History.com.)

Bake up some: Blini! Nothing says “New Year” quite like blini—in Russian culture, that is. Ancient Slavs regarded the thin pancakes as symbols of the sun, given their round form, and blini have been reserved for festive occasions for centuries. The Russian form of blini can be stuffed with cheese, and that recipe—along with two others, plus a personal tale of family history—can be found at Wall Street Journal.com.

Grey stone bell with simple Eastern carvings

Buddhist bells are run 108 times on New Year’s Eve. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

SHOGATSU:
JAPANESE BUDDHIST EXTRAVAGANZA

The grand celebrations for Christmas in the West compare to elaborate preparations for New Year’s in the East, and Japan observes Shogatsu with grandeur. Families prepare weeks in advance, with most businesses closed on New Year’s Day. Traditional pressed rice cakes, mochi, are cooked ahead of time and then finally prepared in a variety of flavors. Some mochi are cooked with broth to create a New Year’s soup. (Read more from Food & Nutrition.)

At midnight on Dec. 31, Buddhist temples throughout Japan ring their bells 108 times, which is an auspicious number in Buddhist tradition. The Watch Night Bell is a renowned destination on New Year’s Eve. After midnight, families head to a local temple to pray, and then feast together on soba noodles. The following morning, New Year’s greetings are exchanged and delicacies like sashimi and sushi are consumed, while children are presented with small envelopes containing money. (Wikipedia has details.) Most New Year’s celebrations last several days.

Happy New Year!  Akemashite omedeto gozaimasu!

SOLEMNITY OF MARY,
MOTHER OF GOD:
OCTAVE OF CHRISTMAS

The octave of Christmas culminates in the feast of the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God, on January 1. Feasts for the Mother of God were popular from the earliest centuries of the Church. (Learn more from Catholic Culture.) Millions of Christians, in Eastern and Western branches of the faith, turn to the Virgin Mary who is, by Greek description, the Theotokos “She Who Gave Birth to God.” (Note: in the Anglican and Lutheran denominations, the Feast of the Circumcision of Christ is observed today.)

BASIL THE GREAT
& VASILOPITA CAKE

Saint Basil the Great takes the cake—literally—in Greece and in Orthodox Christian communities today. On New Year’s Eve, both adults and children walk through neighborhoods singing Kalanda—carols—and then gather for enormous bonfires. In hopes of luck in the New Year, tables are graced with plentiful dishes, and the St. Basil’s Cake is the centerpiece. The vasilopita, or St. Basil’s Cake, is cooked with a coin inside, and the recipient of the piece of cake with the coin is said to be lucky for the coming year. (Find a recipe here.)

St. Basil the Great was born in the 4th century CE in Caesarea of Cappadocia, to a family well known for its holiness. At his sister’s urging, Basil followed an ascetic life and visited monks in several regions. (Learn more from the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America.) The saint inspired and preached throughout his life until his death, on January 1, 379 CE.

Christmas Octave honors Mary and ancient Feast of Circumcision

AN ANCIENT FEAST: These paintings show the long tradition behind this festival. At top is an 11th-century Eastern image of the Circumcision of Jesus; below it is a 16th-century European painting of the same scene.

AN ANCIENT FEAST: These paintings show the long tradition behind this festival. At top is an 11th-century Eastern image of the Circumcision of Jesus; below it is a 16th-century European painting of the same scene.

WEDNESDAY, JANUARY 1: Christians around the world mark the Gregorian New Year’s Day with festivals celebrating the early life of Jesus: the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God; the Feast of the Circumcision; and the Feast of the Holy Name of Jesus.

What’s “an Octave”? In traditional Christian language, this is the Octave of Christmas, a special remembrance to mark the passing of eight days from a major feast. Eastern Christians use the term “Afterfeast.” Over the centuries, the Vatican has downsized and simplified the calendar of Octaves in an attempt to focus the faithful on the most significant celebrations in the Christian year. Once there were more than a dozen Octaves celebrated each year. Today, the main Catholic Octaves follow Christmas and Easter.

The Circumcision: In accordance with their Jewish tradition, Mary and Joseph had Jesus circumcised eight days after his birth. It was on this day that he received his name Jesus. This is also a time when Mary’s role is recognized as “mother of God.” Orthodox Christians bestow the title Theotokos, or God-bearer.

The branches of Christianity now mark this day in various ways from almost no observance in American Protestant churches to elaborate liturgies in more traditional denominations. These customs have evolved over many centuries. A feast honoring Mary as the Mother of God initially began in the East, and Romans were observing a celebration of the Maternity of the Blessed Virgin Mary by the 7th century. But, 600 years later, the Feast of the Circumcision of Christ had replaced the Marian feast. In 1974, Pope Paul VI swapped the Jan. 1 Feast of the Circumcision for the Maternity of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Today, Catholics mark the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God on Jan. 1; Anglicans and Lutherans keep the Circumcision of Christ; members of the Church of England refer to this as “The Naming and Circumcision of Jesus Christ.” Eastern Orthodox Christians combine rites with hymns of St. Basil the Great.

IN THE NEWS:
2014 ‘MARY’ MOVIE and MORE

The first poster has officially been released for the 2014 movie, Mary, Mother of Christ, due in theaters in December. Starring a 16-year-old Israeli actress as Mary, the film boasts megachurch pastor Joel Osteen as an executive director and Australian filmmaker Alister Grierson as director. (The Christian Post has an article.) Two more biblical blockbusters are lined up for 2014 release, including “Noah”—starring Russel Crowe, Jennifer Connelly and Emma Watson—and a Moses film, entitled, “Exodus.”

A recent CNN article delved into the reality of Mary’s motherhood—much of which goes unmentioned in the Gospels. While many will fondly embrace Mary’s relationship with Jesus as without conflict, that may not be so: The Gospels describe a few notable miscommunications and tensions, not so different from relations in most families. In the end, though, Jesus asked His disciples to care for His mother after His death—a considerable act of compassion.