In old times, people displayed peach blossoms to purify the environment (to get rid of evil spirits) in the peach blossom season. Another custom was that girls floated straw dolls or paper dolls down a river or streams to the sea to purify themselves. Those dolls would carry illness and bad luck away. Later people began to display “Hina-ningyo”, a set of dolls, for the festival.
Today, on Hina-matsuri, we celebrate girls’ growth and good health displaying a set of dolls dressed in gorgeous elegant old style Kimono which court ladies wore. The dolls are usually arranged on a five or seventiered stand. On the top tier, two dolls representing the Emperor (Odairi-sama) and Empress (Ohina-sama) are sitting. On the second tier, there are three ladies-in-waiting (San-nin kanjo), followed by five musicians, two government ministers, and three servants. Sometimes, there are some footmen, as well as some items of daily life, including dressers, carriages, irons, cupboards, etc.
The dolls are put away soon after the festival. We have a superstition that keeping them out longer would delay girls’ marriage!
The festival itself is more family & home oriented. Families share a meal of Hishi-mochi (diamond-shaped tricolored rice cakes) and Shiro-zake (sweet white Sake). Those Hishi-mochi are colored red (or pink), white, and green. The red (originating from the peach) is for chasing evil spirits away, the white (originating from the snow) is for purity, and the green (originating from the green grass) is for health. The diamond shape stands for a heart (life).
When I was a kid, we had a set of very old Hina-ningyo. It was from my grandma’s generation. It wasn’t a complete set anymore, but those dolls were precious. Hina-ningyo is something which is inherited from Mom to the daughter, and to her daughter, and…
On the other hand, parents buy a new set of Hina-ningyo for their daughters. I like both new Hinaningyo and old Hina-ningyo. Each one has its own charm.