Children's Day

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Kodomo-No-Hi (Children's Day)

Type of Holiday: Folkloric
Date of Observation: May 5
Where Celebrated: Japan
Symbols and Customs: Carp, Horse, Iris


What is known today as Kodomo-No-Hi or Children's Day originated as TangoNo-Sekku or Boys' Day. It can be traced back to China, where many years ago a young man named Ch'ü Yuan was so upset by the terrible conditions of his time that he drowned himself in a river, believing that from another world he would be better able to assist his countrymen. His self-sacrifice took place on May 5, which became known as Boys' Day during the ninth century because parents hoped that their sons would display the same spirit of devotion and selflessness. Each household would erect tall bamboo poles outside and attach streamers in the shape of CARP for each of their sons, while inside they would display figures of famous Samurai warriors from Japanese history or legend, dressed in shining suits of armor.

In 1948, Boys' Day was expanded to include girls, and it was renamed Children's Day. The purpose of this day is to impress upon both boys and girls the importance of being good citizens and of showing courage and strength in the face of adversity. But in fact, the customs and activities associated with this day still tend to focus on boys. Families fly carp wind-socks and display military heirlooms and small images of famous feudal warriors-complete with miniature swords, armor, and helmets-which are meant to inspire courage and bravery. Many local shrines and communities hold special festivities for children, including lion dances, sumo wrestling, kendo (fencing with bamboo staves), and climbing competitions.



The custom of flying banners or wind-socks in the shape of carp dates back to the Tokugawa period in Japanese history, when farmers frightened away insects by Kodomo-No-Hi

hanging bright banners and grotesque figures in their fields and gardens. Later, these were transformed into representations of warriors and, instead of acting as scarecrows, were displayed indoors to remind young boys of the bravery and accomplishments of the Samurai.

The carp replaced the warrior figures around 1772 because people wanted a more visible, outdoor display. The carp is a symbol of strength and determination because it swims against the current, leaps up waterfalls, and is said not to quiver when touched with a knife. As the carp banners that are suspended from poles outside people's houses on Children's Day billow in the wind, they appear to swim against an invisible upstream current, embodying the virtues of perseverance and courage that families hope their children will display.


The original observance of Boys' Day was called Tango-No-Sekku. Tango means "First Day of the Horse," and the display of horses during this festival symbolized the attributes of manliness, bravery, and strength desired in boys.


During the Nara period, Tango-No-Sekku (see above) was also known as ShobuNo-Sekku or the Feast of the Iris, a plant believed to have magical restorative qualities. The swordlike leaves were placed at the entrances to houses, on the rooftops, and under the eaves to ward off evil. In the early seventeenth century, young boys would tie shobu leaves into bundles and strike them against the ground, making a loud noise. Today, boys carry wooden swords known as shobu- katana or "iris swords."

It is still a tradition on this day for young people to bathe in hot water in which iris leaves have been steeped. The leaves not only give the bathwater an unusual fragrance but are also believed to drive away illness and to instill in them the spirit of the warrior. Some people chop up the leaves and mix them with sake, the rice wine once enjoyed by the Samurai. Rice balls wrapped in iris leaves, known as chi- maki, are also served on May 5.


Bauer, Helen, and Sherwin Carlquist. Japanese Festivals. Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1965. Buell, Hal. Festivals of Japan. New York: Dodd, Mead, 1965. Cohen, Hennig, and Tristram Potter Coffin. The Folklore of American Holidays. 3rd ed. Detroit: Gale Research, 1999. Henderson, Helene, ed. Holidays, Festivals, and Celebrations of the World Dictionary. 3rd ed. Detroit: Omnigraphics, 2005. Humphrey, Grace. Stories of the World's Holidays. 1923. Reprint. Detroit: Omnigraphics, 1990. Ickis, Marguerite. The Book of Festivals and Holidays the World Over. New York: Dodd, Mead, 1970. Leach, Maria, ed. Funk & Wagnalls Standard Dictionary of Folklore, Mythology & Leg- end. San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1984. MacDonald, Margaret R., ed. The Folklore of World Holidays. Detroit: Gale Research, 1992. Spicer, Dorothy Gladys. The Book of Festivals. 1937. Reprint. Detroit: Omnigraphics, 1990. Thurley, Elizabeth. Through the Year in Japan. London: Batsford Academic and Educational, 1985. Van Straalen, Alice. The Book of Holidays Around the World. New York: Dutton, 1986. Zabilka, Gladys. Customs and Culture of Okinawa. 2nd ed. Rutland, VT: C.E. Tuttle, 1973.


Japanese Culture and Community Center of Northern California
Holiday Symbols and Customs, 4th ed. © Omnigraphics, Inc. 2009

Children's Day

Many countries have set aside a day on which children are allowed to participate in church services, in government, and in various cultural and recreational activities. In the United States, Children's Day was first celebrated in June 1856 at the Universalist Church in Chelsea, Massachusetts. By 1868 its date had been set on a nationwide basis as the second Sunday in June.
Children's Day is also celebrated in the Democratic Republic of Congo (Dec. 25), Iceland (April 24), Indonesia (June 17), Japan ( see Kodomo-no-Hi), Nigeria (May 27), and Turkey. The Turkish Children's Day on April 23 gives 400 students the educational opportunity to take seats in the national government in Ankara. The same thing takes place on a smaller scale in cities and towns all over the country.
See also Turkey National Sovereignty and Children's Day and Urini Nal
AnnivHol-2000, pp. 66, 68, 109, 190, 194
BkFestHolWrld-1970, p. 80
DaysCustFaith-1957, p. 157
RelHolCal-2004, p. 97

Celebrated in: Japan, Laos, South Korea, Vanuatu

Children's Day (former Yugoslavia)
December; three Sundays before Christmas
On the third Sunday before Christmas, known as Dechiyi Dan or Children's Day, parents in the former Yugoslavia tie up their children and refuse to release them until they have promised to be good.
And, although many people think that Mother's Day originated in the United States, Slavs traditionally set aside a Sunday in December to visit their mothers and bring them small gifts. Young children, on the other hand, honor their mothers by tying them up and refusing to release them until they have paid a "ransom" of sweets and goodies. Sometimes the mother hides small gifts under her mattress so that if the children tie her up before she gets out of bed in the morning, she'll have something to offer them. Considering that mothers tied up their children on the previous Sunday, this custom isn't as outrageous as it seems.
The Sunday following Materitse is Ochichi or Ocevi (Father's Day). Boys and girls tie their fathers to his chair or bed. The ransom in this case is even higher, as the father must promise to buy them coats, shoes, dresses, or other expensive items before they let him go. These promises are usually fulfilled a short time later as Christmas gifts.
BkFest-1937, p. 344
FolkWrldHol-2000, p.
Holidays, Festivals, and Celebrations of the World Dictionary, Fourth Edition. © 2010 by Omnigraphics, Inc.