This year, I won't be taking part in a personal annual tradition of making but not sending out New Year's cards (I have an unfortunate habit of writing letters and never sending them). This year I won't be making them in the first place.
While we have holiday cards in the west, Japan has New Year's cards. Growing up, I watched my mom carve New Year's cards each year with the coming year's zodiac. Somewhere along the way, I joined in and started to genuinely enjoy designing elaborate cards and incorporating extremely minor references that pretty much no one else would get, while still being visually pleasing to anyone.
2012 - Year of the Dragon
It was my first New Year's in Nagoya and a shachi looks like a dragon. Really big in the back the the character 辰 for the Year of the Dragon.
But in the top left corner, ever so subtly, I also included a design on the side based on the tattoo of a character in One Piece named Dragon.
Not that I expected anyone to notice, but it made me happy it was there.
2013 - Year of the Snake
I was determined to use motifs from one of my favorite movies of all time, 白蛇伝 (The Legend of the White Snake), which is Japan's first full-length animated feature film. The images of this movie have stayed with me ever since I saw it as a little kid.
For this card, I combined Bai-Niang's basket from the beginning of the film, patterns from the Xu-xian and Bai-Niang's clothes, sprigs of holly leaves, and the words "Happy Hollydays" (so they would be Christmas appropriate as well) to create the character 巳 which represents the Year of the Snake.
I took it a step further and made sure there were 20+13 leaves to represent 2013 and 25 berries to represent the Japanese year, Heisei 25.
To top it off, I took about two weeks to find the right shades of colored pencils so I could preserve the overall balance of the card, while keeping the colors true to those in the film.
It was a work of art and made me extremely happy. But before I got all of them out, not that I would actually succeeded in doing so given my track record, I got the call from my dad asking me to come home. I knew that meant he didn't have much time left and I arrived just in time to say good-bye. That was late January 2013.
2014 - Year of the Horse
It's tradition to not send New Year's cards when there is a death in the family and to also send out cards saying you won't be sending or receiving cards because they are, in their nature, celebratory.
To be honest, with everything going on, it was a bit of a relief to not have to worry about designing New Year's cards. And I refuse to send the cards that are sent to announce that you won't be sending cards because it's still sending cards. Plus anyone I would send them to already knows.
But as New Year's season approached, the stores began to carry the glorious different designs to choose from and the wonderful little parts that can be put together for a more do-it-yourself look. New Year's card are a big deal over here. Far more than Christmas cards will ever be in the west. I love all the puns and creative ideas that flood stationery stores each year and this year, the sheer number of unicorns and pegasi is insane. Rainbows and cuteness galore.
And as you know, I love making my stationery store rounds, but as I do, fact that I wouldn't be making a New Year's card and, more importantly, the reason I'm not sending cards sinks in. It doesn't help that my dad was born in the year of the horse. He would have been turning 72 in 2014.
It's just how it is. And how it will be from now on. I accept that. But I'm still going to be melancholy and a little mopey about it.
Because that's just how it is.
Though I gurantee, this year off will come back with a vengence for 2015, the Year of the Sheep. I have over a year and my gears are already turning.
Because that's just how I am.