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In the depths of winter, when their barren fields yielded no blooms to adorn their altars, Japanese farmers traditionally fashioned flowers of wood to celebrate the New Year. To make their festive flora, they cut leafless branches and carved the white wood inside in a variety of ways. Tangled curly slivers — long ones resembling catkins and short ones like lilies — were called kezuribana (shaved flowers). Combined with twigs decorated with dumpling balls of rice flour, these were offered with devotions to the gods of farming and the household, and to ancestors to receive their blessings.

Celebrated on Jan. 15, the charming festival known as Koshogatsu, or Little New Year, is different from the official Jan. 1 New Year. By the old lunar calendar, Jan. 15 coincided with the year’s first full moon, which was deemed an important occasion on which to pray for a good harvest in the coming year. Farmers observed Koshogatsu with great gusto, performing various magical rites or building a large bonfire. The once prevalent celebration is now rarely held except in remote villages.

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