Last week, the Chinatown Chamber of Commerce held its first public Chinese New Year public celebration since the onset of the pandemic. It was a terrific success with thousands milling the streets of the historic district and enjoying the food and crafts and the energetic and mischievous, frenetic lion dancers.
But the actual date of the lunar Chinese New Year of the Rabbit was Sunday, January 22. And it proved to be a momentous day for several communities, one that demonstrated some of the things that make Hawaii such a wholly unique global visitor destination. One for the books, as they say. It was a doozy!
Chinese New Year on the Irish Corner
First, on Saturday night (the 21st), Chinatown’s “Irish Corner” held its own Chinese New Year celebration, complete with fireworks and food, and eager punters keen to welcome the new year. Of course, Murphy’s Bar & Grill and Black Shamrock Tavern participated in the Chamber of Commerce celebration the week before. But both establishments and their owners have deep ties in the Chinatown community, and they saw fit to arrange a celebration of their own.
This was prompted by a desire to express their support of the Chinatown Arts District, and to honor the annual ritual in their own way. It was no small feat. J.J. Nieghbur of the Black Shamrock told the HAT Blog that he had to secure the permission of the Chinese Chamber of Commerce to hire a lion dance troupe of their own choosing, a group Nieghbur has worked with for decades. “They’re family!” he said.
The event was a wild success. It was also proof that both Murphy’s and the Black Shamrock embrace the spiritual and ritual significance of Chinese New Year. If there is a better example of Hawaii being a cultural melting pot, we haven’t seen it. The decidedly Catholic Irish culture honoring the traditions of Far Eastern and polytheistic religion? It was more than going through the motions of CNY. It was a genuine and sincere participation in it. As they say, “only in Hawaii”.
On Sunday, the lustrous koa wood casket of Princess Abigail Kawananakoa was brought to Iolani Palace to lie in state following her recent passing. She was the last of a royal line of the Hawaiian monarchy overthrown in 1893. She was also president of the Friends of Iolani Palace for nearly 30 years.
It was an affair that compared to similar royal ceremonies of monarchies around the world, a pageant of decorum, dignity, and devotion. Deposed Queen Lili’oukalani was honored at the palace after her death. The last member of the royal family to lie in state at Iolani Palace was Prince Jonah Kuhio in 1922. The love of Native Hawaiian people (and all lovers of Native Hawaiian culture) for the royal family was on full display. It was the most significant event in the royal family in generations, and it was covered by news media around the world.
An unforgettable “The Eddie” surfing invitational
We think few would disagree with the assertion that the running of “The Eddie Aikau”, the big wave surfing contest honoring legendary North Shore lifeguard Eddie Aikua, made the biggest, erm, splash over the Chinese New Year weekend. Last held in 2016 (won by Hawaii’s John John Florence), the 2023 Eddie was called on-then-off in early January, due to a forecast that turned unfavorable.
The models improved over the following week, and the event was called back “on” for January 22. It would turn out to be one of the most spectacular displays of big wave surfing in history, with one competitor calling it the “best day” in the history of surfing. Eddie Aikau is alongside Duke Kahanamoku as the most revered figures ever in surfing culture. The Aikau family is universally beloved and respected.
The fact that the 2023 Eddie was won by a Honolulu City & County Ocean Safety lifeguard, Luke Sheperdson, was a poetic and beautiful finish to what will surely be known as the greatest surfing competition ever held. All of the competitors expressed that The Eddie is more a celebration than a competition. And the 50,000 spectators who lined the beach and surrounding cliffs would most certainly agree.
It was an auspicious, solemn, and ultimately joyous welcome to the Chinese New Year of the Rabbit on Oahu. We here at the HAT Blog, along with the Hawaii Aloha Travel ohana, offer you our best wishes for a prosperous and peaceful 2023. Aloha!