I never get around to sending Christmas cards. There is too much going on in December: work, presents, work, parties, work parties, work.
The week following Christmas, however, seems a perfect time to send out cards — there is less stress, work lets up, the parties have died down.
That’s where New Year’s cards fit in. Japanese New Year’s cards, or nengajo (年賀状), to be precise. I learned about New Year’s cards on my first New Year’s Day in Japan, when I was surprised — and overcome — to find my mailbox stuffed with cards from friends and students. New Year’s card giving is a widespread tradition in Japan, with some families mailing out over 100. The design often incorporates the Chinese zodiac animal of the new year. Unlike Christmas cards, which you can expect in your mailbox anytime in December, nengajou should be delivered on precisely January 1st of the new year. In Japan, this means the Japanese postal service is hard at work delivering the cards to your mailbox on New Year’s Day, a national holiday in Japan, and a time that most spend with their families. In the US, I can’t expect the USPS to deliver my cards on January 1st, but the practice of making the cards and sending them works for me.
This year, for 2013 the year of the snake, I painted a few designs to illustrate the year of the snake. The challenge was finding some appropriate poem or quote to go along with the images. Snakes don’t fare well in poetry and lore. The first couple designs here are simple — water snakes, with the Japanese characters for Year of the Snake. The next two images feature poems I found that reference snakes.
Finally, I did a couple cards with deer and a William Blake poem. The poem was shared a while ago by a friend, and it stuck with me. When someone else gave me a holiday card with a deer on it, I used the design for a new year’s card.
New Year’s card, with a deer design, featuring William Blake quote: “the wild deer, wand’ring here and there, /Keeps the human soul from care.”