Giving the Women a Break, Since 700 A.D
Japanese have celebrated the transition of seasons though the year with sechinichi, 'transition day' feasts. A tower of pretty boxes are filled with seasonal delicacies, to be unstacked and savoured at leisure. Osechi is the 'Big Feast' of the New Year, celebrated over three days. It was the only time women got a holiday. The incessant lighting of fires, hauling of water ceased. They wouldn't even wash the chopsicks, just rinse them in their cup of tea, and have a lot of lovely naps.
There were no convenience stores back then, or even fridges. Osechi cuisine features preserved food such as sugared beans, carrot pickled in sweetened, citron-flavoured vinegar, and salted fish eggs, all looking bright and festive. The boxes would go out in the midwinter snow each night, to keep things fresh.
You can presume most Japanese are eating Osechi boxes today, January 1st. They've had over a thousand years practice now, so even supermarkets sell quality Osechi sets.
The first time I had one, It was like being a kid in a candy store, all the colors and intense flavours I'd never had before. But 'candy' is the word. The sugariness makes Osechi the 'tinsel' version of Japanese cuisine. The flavours aren't particularly complex, and its the kind of food a you really shouldn't be putting in your body every day.
As I write, I'm slowly cooking sweet red capsicum. It will go into a tower of containers in my fridge, ready to add deliciousness to other simple things, for almost-instant meals. The other containers have slices of slow-cooked sweet potato, one of butter-cooked silver beet, and another of smoked chicken. I do this all year round. By mealtime, Im tired, hungry, and so grateful that I can just 'assemble' rather than cook. An important part of my life is hosting WWOOFers, live-in volunteer helpers. They help make my dreams come true, I look after them well. Trouble-free, healthy and delicious food is an essential 'social currency' for me, and way to delight people who delight me. My Osechi-syle container custom makes my life New Year's day, all year long.
In a traditional Osechi set, each dish has auspicious symbolism. The noodles represent long life, because they are long. So do bent-over prawns: live till you are a a really wizened grandma. But the aspirations of 1000 years ago are not exactly mine. I want a life of fullness, rather than mere longness. I want the old age of a tall, generous river gum, not a scuttling prawn. Home grown vegetables, ready to eat and stacked Osechi-style is a practical, actual way I'm making that healthy old age happen, no wishes needed.