empty window sill
warmed by the weak winter sun
waiting for a cat
A major theme of this month is the preparation for New Year’s, and bidding farewell to the old year. At the end of the year bonenkai is a party where lots of food and alcohol are consumed to help to clear up all the unpleasantness of the past year and begin the new year with a clean slate. Bonenkai are a must for every work group. There may be parties for one department, the whole company, clients, etc. Options for these parties range from snack food and drinks to lavish social gatherings on a cruise ship sailing around the Sumida River in Tokyo complete with live music and dancing. There may be parties for other groups as well, such as judo or chess clubs or former classmates.
Also to there is the O-soji or big cleaning at the end of the year. According to ancient belief, Toshigami (God of the Year) visits every home at New Year’s, so preparations are made to receive him. These preparations include paying off debts, borrowed items are returned and thoroughly cleaning the house, office, or classroom. Floors and walls are scrubbed, rooms and desks are tidied. New paper is put on shoji screens.
Rice making is a big event towards the end of the year. Mochi pounding is a fun and happy event and flat rice cakes (kagami mochi are given as gifts).
Because of the weather, frost, snow, hail and sleet are often themes for December. The winter moon seen on a frost night or the flower of snowflakes make setsugekka (snow, moon, flower) a good theme for a tea gathering. According to one of the seven rules of Rikyu — In the summer, suggest coolness; in the winter warmth — make sure that your guest feel warm and comfortable.
the shoals of the year
days running swift and shallow
soon the tide will turn
December is the end of the year. The sun, even on a fine day is thin and weak. The wind continues to blow and most of the leaves are off the trees. Occasional rain showers or snow showers make the hearth seem warm and inviting. We want to hang onto the tea in the tea bowl and linger in conversation afterwards. December also runs down to the shortest day – longest night of the year in the winter solstice and the beginning of the return to the light.
In tea, December is called the month of teachers’ running. They are making preparation for the end of the year Joyagama celebration, and first of the year Hatsugama. This is the month for cleaning in preparation for the new year. Literally cleaning up your house and space, but also socially cleaning up relationships. Now is the time to say you’re sorry for unkind things you said and did, make peace with your co-workers, and pay debts you owe so that you start the new year with a clean slate. It is also the time to thank your teachers, and others for favors received during the year.
Themes for December include kagami mochi (flat mirror shaped rice cakes), suisen (narcissus), camellia, snow, sleet, hail, fallen leaves, mandarin oranges, mizu dori (ducks with their heads tucked under their wings), bare trees, and winter wind.
An Anthology of the Seasonal Feeling in Chanoyu, by Michael A. Birch
Chado: The Way of Tea, A Japanese Tea Master’s Almanac, translated from the Japanese by Shaun McCabe and Iwasaki Satoko.
Notes from Midorikai lectures, 1996-1997