“He [Jesus] sacrificed for their sins once for all when he offered himself.” Hebrews 7:27b
Every year on March 3rd, countless girls across Japan celebrate Hina Matsuri (ひな祭り) which means literally “doll festival,” but is commonly referred to as “Girls’ Day.” The custom originated in the early 17th century, where usually a red, multi-tiered platform (hina dan) is set up and on it a collection of special dolls (hina ningyō) and related furniture are put on display prior to the hina matsuri. These ornamental dolls are typically clothed in the traditional court dress of the Heian Period (794-1185) and represent the emperor, empress, various court attendants and musicians. The dolls are not intended as items for play and many sets are actually quite expensive with a value of several thousand dollars for the more elaborate versions. Some hina matsuri collections are passed on from one generation to another as treasured heirlooms and are therefore handled with great care.
Hina matsuri is also associated with the initial blooming of peach blossoms in certain parts of Japan with the coming of spring and as such symbolically celebrates the health and happiness of girls within a family. According to custom, immediately following Girls’ Day, these special dolls are supposed to be put away immediately or parents risk inviting the bad luck of a late marriage for their daughter. The city of Konosu hosts the largest display of hina ningyō in Japan every year on a 23-foot (7 meter) pyramid with more than 1,800 exquisite dolls artfully arranged on 31 levels.
Another ceremony often connected with hina matsuri is nagashi bina, which is roughly translated as “doll floating.” Participants in this unusual rite make cheaper versions of the hina dolls from paper or straw and set them adrift on a river, regarding them as a sort of talisman that will remove their sins, impurities and any demonic influences.
The obvious intention of Girls’ Day is to provide families an annual opportunity to celebrate the lives of their girls while wishing for them to have health and happiness. But the older and deeper traditions associated with hina matsuri point to something far more important that is largely ignored in modern celebrations. What is conveniently overlooked is the universal problem of sin and our personal culpability before a Holy and Righteous God. While all parents understandably seek health and happiness for their children in this temporary world, there is nothing they can do to eradicate the eternal consequences of the sins and misdeeds of themselves and their children in the world to come. Recognizing this problem, previous generations of Japanese set dolls afloat on nearby rivers in a vain attempt to purge them and their loved ones of personal guilt. But such shallow efforts, no matter how well intended they may be, sunk ineffectively in deep waters along with the dolls as they drifted downstream. Another, more effective solution than floating dolls was needed and God Himself has provided the perfect substitute for our sins in the form of His Son. The author of Hebrews succinctly describes this amazing provision when he writes, “He [Jesus] sacrificed for their sins once for all when he offered himself.” (7:27b) This substitute is indeed an amazing treasure, not to be put on a shelf and casually admired, but to be fully embraced and celebrated daily.