When the New Year rolls around in Hawaii, we celebrate it in a variety of ways. House parties or a night on town are the most obvious, of course, and there’s always a few spectacular fireworks displays for resident and visitor families alike to gather under and gawk at the spectacle.
But there are a couple of other traditions that are less about revelry than they are about honoring cultural practices that go back centuries. Mochi pounding is foremost among those traditions. Brought from Japan by plantation workers in the 19th century, mochi pounding involved an intricate dance. Rice is soaked for days. Large ceremonial mallets are brought out, and two at a time pounders alternate swings while a third person kneads the doughy mass between strokes.
The ceremony honors Buddha, and while its roots are pious in nature, families of all religious persuasions gather at various Buddhist temples around Hawaii to participate. It’s a community building affair, meant to bring peace and prosperity in the New Year.
Another honored tradition during the New Year in Hawaii is sashimi, or high quality raw tuna. Other types of fish eaten raw as sashimi in this time of year are salmon, mackerel, squid, and octopus. Because demand for “sashimi grade” fish is so high around the New Year, prices in Hawaii tend to rise with it. Buyers can expect to pay up to $10 more per pound than during the rest of the year. If the fleet comes in with just as modest catch, those prices climb higher still.
Finally, fireworks are hugely popular on New Year’s Eve. They are also widely reviled. We’re not talking about complex aerial productions here. In fact, aerial fireworks are illegal on Oahu. But residents (and visitors) can purchase permits for fireworks, firecrackers and the like. In neighborhoods all over Hawaii, New Year’s Eve is filled with what sounds like the sounds of combat. Normally quiet bedroom communities echo with the sound of legal (and, often, illegal) fireworks into the small hours of the morning. The smoke from these fireworks is often a problem for people with respiratory issues.
The tradition goes back to China and other parts of Asia, where the fireworks are believed to ward off evil spirits as the New Year rolls in. And while some may find New Year fireworks to be a nuisance, and even a health risk, the traditions remains strong in Hawaii.
Here are some public New Year fireworks displays on Oahu.