Hanami ~ Celebrating Love and Life under the Spring Blossoms!

“Petals falling unable to resist the moonlight

Sakura, sakura they fall in the dreams of sleeping beauty”

-Yosa Buson

My childhood worldview was shaped by the foreign students that my parents sponsored through the Council on World Affairs from Case Western Reserve.  Every 4 years I’d have a new “Brother or Sister”, although in truth none of them ever left us!

There was Santosh, the student from India who brought us beautiful saris and sandals to wear and Riet from Holland who used to take me berry picking and foraging in the fields behind my parent’s home. There was Michael from England who is probably more responsible for my love of curry than anyone. There was Farhad, who came from Iran and every year would bring me gifts of nougat, rose covered almonds, Rose oil, Rose Water and absolutely beautiful hand painted mother of pearl jewelry.

My earliest memories though are of Hisashi and Kazco who were married in my parents back yard in a beautiful Japanese tea ceremony. They talked to me about many things, but the things that I remember the most were their memories of the beautiful springtime celebrations of Hanami, the ancient cherry blossom viewing festival. We didn’t have cherry trees, but my parents had glorious crabapple trees that circled all three acres of their property and I remember spreading out blankets and having magical fairy parties every spring under the fragrant and falling petals. I can’t wait to have grandchildren of my own to do this with. I’m already planning menus of fairy cakes, mochi and sweetened jasmine tea.

In Japan, celebrating the transient beauty of spring flowers in a ritual called Hanami is a beloved custom that happens for a glorious two-week period when the cherry blossoms burst into bloom. The word Hanami literally means “flower viewing,” although it is most commonly used to refer to the viewing of cherry blossoms in particular.  I am told that the celebration of Hanami dates all the way back to the 8th century – although I guess the flower of choice then was the equally beautiful and fleeting plum blossom.

Traditionally, Hanami celebrations would include afternoon picnics under the blossoms and gaily strung lanterns with all of your family and friends. You would be enjoying pots of fragrant green tea, sake, dumplings, pink rice and delectable Japanese sweets. This could and often would even continue well into the evening when you could dine with your lover

nestled within the abundantly blooming trees.

This mysterious and romantic version of Hanami is called Yozakura which simply means “the night cherry blossom” and after night fall, I’ve always noticed that the world takes on a different fragrance at blossom time. I think that you notice the scent of the blossoms more at nightfall because you’re not as distracted by the sheer visual beauty of the blooms. 

I still do this every year as part of my springtime cleansing and renewal and awakening ritual. When the blooms begin, Jim and I will go for long walks hand in hand, stealing kisses underneath the clusters of blossoms and spreading out blankets and drinking in the sweet night time air, bathing in the warm spring breezes and falling blossoms. Hanami is my idea of the most magical of celebrations, and it is so very easy to celebrate. As the trees start blooming in your neighborhood take a walk and take the time to appreciate the beauty of the blooms.

You could even take a moment out of every day to appreciate this glorious two-week period by bringing out a comfy chair, a small table, a lovely pot of tea and sitting in quiet contemplation under the beautiful blossoms. After all, this is a period that signals a time of beauty and renewal. Spring has come again and aren’t we just so very glad? Why not take a few moments to relax and celebrate the emergence of these beautiful blossoms, because they’re only going to last two weeks.

If that’s not real magic I don’t know what is!

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