The What Festival?

Here are a few festivals I’ve participated in recently that you maybe didn’t even know existed.

Setsubun

Spring starts significantly earlier in Japan, specifically on February 3rd when the winter season has half passed. While the cold will endure for some time, in just a few weeks the plum trees will blossom, followed shortly by the sakura then the peach orchards. It’s time for spring cleaning and banishing dust, demons and other evils from homes. Catholics may have their crucifixes for exorcisms, but the Japanese have mightier weapons of spiritual warfare- beans. Apparently demons abhor the tiny legumes, so on Setsubun families gather at the doorway of their house and throw beans outside, shouting “Demons out! Good luck in!” To take care of any internal, corporal demonic possession, everyone also eats their age plus one in crunchy soybean snacks.

St. Blaise Day

Setsubun also happens to be St. Blaise Day. Saint Blaise is the patron saint of throats and a testament to the fact that Catholics have a saint for everything. On his feast day, priests bless the throats of their congregants by placing two candles in a V-shape in front of the necks of the faithful and saying a prayer. It’s like a Catholic flu shot.

Festival of the Presentation of the Lord and Candle Blessing

When Jesus was 40 days old, Mary and Joseph took him to the temple in Jerusalem per Jewish tradition. The Catholic Church chooses to commemorate that day by blessing all the candles that will be used for Mass during the year. I don’t really get the connection either.

Also, did you ever wonder what happens to all those palm leaves we wave around on Palm Sunday? Most churches re-collect the dried branches, then burn them to make the ashes used to cross foreheads on Ash Wednesday.

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