Happy Girl's Day - Hina Matsuri The Japanese Doll Festival (Hina-matsuri), or Girls' Day, is held on March 3 Platforms covered with a red carpet are used to display a set of ornamental dolls. On this day families with young daughters celebrate this event at home to ensure their daughter's future happiness. That is, they decorate hina-Ningyo (special, beautiful dolls which are replicas of an ancient emperor and empress and their subordinates). The dolls are not the everyday dolls usually played with but are ceremonial dolls, a heritage of the household, handed down, many of them, from generation to generation. They are displayed for a few days in the best room of the house at this festival time, after which they are carefully boxed and put away until the next year. Parents who are able to do so buy new sets of dolls for a girl baby born since the preceding festival, and relatives and friends make gifts of dolls. It is also called "Momo no sekku (Peach Festival)" because of the peach blossom season on the old lunar calendar. Peach blossoms, symbolizing a happy marriage, are indispensable decorations of this festival day. The blossoms signify the feminine traits - of gentility, composure and tranquility. The custom of displaying dolls began during the Heian period. Formerly, people believed the dolls possessed the power to contain bad spirits. Hinamatsuri traces its origins to an ancient Japanese custom called hina-nagashi (lit. "doll floating"), in which straw hina dolls are set afloat on a boat and sent down a river to the sea, supposedly taking troubles or bad spirits with them. The Shimogamo Shrine (part of the Kamo Shrine complex in Kyoto) celebrates the Nagashibina by floating these dolls between the Takano and Kamo Rivers to pray for the safety of children. People have stopped doing this now because of fishermen catching the dolls in their nets. They now send them out to sea, and when the spectators are gone they take the boats out of the water and bring them back to the temple and burn them. Families generally start to display the dolls in February and take them down immediately after the festival. Superstition says that leaving the dolls past March 4 will result in a late marriage for the daughter. Hina-matsuri used to be one of the very few occasions when little Japanese girls had their own parties. It was customary up to the prewar years for them to invite their small friends to these parties at which they partook of the sweets and food offered to the dolls. Sometimes they cooked and prepared the food and cakes to be offered to the dolls. They drank Shirozake, a sweet mild rice wine, on the occasion. The main offerings are small cakes - hishi mochi (diamond-shaped rice cakes) fruit-shaped candy, tiny white and red dainties of osekihan (glutinous rice boiled with red beans), colored wheat gluten and rice crackers - hina arare The colorful air of both the dolls and the young girls add to the gaiety of this festival. Old country families still treasure their family hina-matsuri dolls and doll furniture which are preserved for centuries. Brides used to take their own dolls to their new homes. Many interpretations are given about the festival. Families observe it to encourage filial piety, ancestor worship, loyalty, but above all is the love of children by Japanese parents, their joy and pride in them, and their desire to please them, and this love often impels poor parents to sell some of their belongings to buy dolls and decorations for the festival.