While Christmas is the BIG holiday for most in North America, Europe, Australia and New Zealand, Japan puts all its passion into their New Year celebrations.
Often the longest continual holiday that the average working Japanese person has, year-end congregations are significant to families and friends who gather to remember the year that’s past and celebrate the arrival of the next.
December 31st is not traditionally a huge party night for Japan as it is in the West however, with most people choosing to spend the time at home with family watching end-of-year shows and eating long, chunky, hot soba (buckwheat) noodles which symbolize long life and longevity.
Gorging on a bowl of Toshikoshi soba on New Year’s Eve is akin to singing Auld Lang Syne – everyone does it, but no-one is certain how the tradition started. Roughly translated, Toshikoshi soba means ‘end the old year and enter the New Year soba noodles’ and are commonly served in a comforting hot broth with vegetables and perhaps an egg.
Although no-one may know for certain, it’s said the tradition of eating soba in December sprung from the Edo period when the thick buckwheat noodle was at its most delicious because that’s when the best flour of the year was harvested. It was also common for soba to be the dish that everyone ate at the end of each month. Misoka-soba (‘last day of a month noodles’) was a meal that most devoured in celebration of another month passing.
Therefore, the logical conclusion is that because of the convergence of these two factors, the end of December was the most popular time to eat the delicious buckwheat noodles even as far back as the Edo period.
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