The holidays are about traditions. This is especially true when it comes to New Year’s in Hawaii.
For my family, New Year’s Eve is almost bigger than Christmas. A holiday that’s evolved into a mix-mash of ethnic traditions, mostly involving family. I don’t know exactly where all of the rituals came from, but I know my family still carries them on because they’re fun (most revolve around food), and well, because they’re tradition.
I’ll spend New Year’s Eve morning making peanut butter mochi and sushi maki with my Japanese cousins in Pearl City. Later, back in town, I’ll help my father prepare his feast.
On the eve, our house becomes the gathering point for my giant extended family — aunts, uncles, cousins, neighbors. In other words, there are lots of mouths to feed. My father cooks a meal to match. Think American holiday fare with a Chinese twist. There’s barbecued pork spare ribs (marinated in bean paste and hoisin sauce), a big pot of fried rice (local style, with Spam). The centerpiece of the table is a giant vat of “jai,” a moist stew of tofu skins, dates, vermicelli noodles, shiitake mushrooms and wood ear fungus — in other words, just about everything you’ve ever seen in the dried goods section of a Chinese market.
While the jai marinates, we prep the house for fireworks — an inescapable Hawaii tradition if there is one.
In the old days, by New Year’s Day our driveway and front yard would be littered with red paper from thousands of exploded red firecrackers.
Every year, we hang strings of 10,000 or 20,000 firecrackers off the porch, burning one at each corner of the house, as my father says, “For good luck!”
One year, my family somehow got a hold of a strand of 100,000 red firecrackers. Unwound, it was so long that we turned the light post outside our house into a make-shift flag pole and ran the string up to the top. We still ended up with about 20 feet of firecrackers that we had to lay on the ground.
Another time, one of my cousins set off a bottle rocket outside the garage — just as a Honolulu Police Department patrol car pulled up.
We though for sure we were busted! Turns out it was cousin Charlie. He’d stopped by as soon as his shift was over to visit.
Over the years, our traditions keep evolving. As my cousins grew up, got married and had their own families, the clutch that lands at my house has become a little smaller.
And now that the fireworks ban has become law, this will be the last year for prowling around with a mosquito punk in hand, burning jumping jacks and red firecrackers.
Thankfully, we’ll still have one constant that we can always count on: a great feast.
Sign up for our FREE morning newsletter and face each day more informed.