Today (February 3) was Setsubun in Japan, so we talked about it in class. For a complete description, You'll have to check out the wiki, but here are the parts I like:
- Setsubun: 節分
The first kanji is the same "setsu" as in "kisetsu," 季節, which means season.
The second kanji is 分, which can mean portion, part, or, in this case, division.
The reasoning goes that this day, in the old lunar Japanese calendar, was the day before the first day of spring. Since the seasons go 春夏秋冬, there is a division between winter and spring. Thus, "season division," 節分".
- Mamemaki: 豆撒き
Mamemaki is the scattering (撒き) of beans (豆) that is the funnest tradition ever. As part of the renewal that Spring brings, the idea is "out with the bad (demons), in with the good (luck)." People throw (投げる) soybeans (大豆) outside their doors to drive the bad spirits away, while chanting:
Usually, the only people who throw stuff, at least at the temple celebrations, are the ones who were born in the same year as the new year. That is, if they were born 12 years ago in the year of the 牛, they can throw beans this year.
- While beans purify the place of demons, they are also eaten, symbolizing taking in good luck. You are supposed to eat roasted soybeans (炒り豆), one for every year you are old, and, in some family traditions, it's your age plus one. The "plus one" might be for the nine months you were in the womb, or it might be for the coming year.