Celebrating New Year’s in Hawaii Like a Local
While Hawaii residents may hold to New Year’s traditions like singing “Auld Lang Syne” and setting off fireworks, the state’s diverse ethnic cultures ring in the New Year with foods considered to bring good luck. Traditions and superstitions range from Japanese mochi pounding for good luck to Filipino Pancit consumption to grant a long life.
Here’s a look at eight New Year’s traditions in Hawaii that shed light on how culture plays into annual festivities.
1) Eating Sashimi For Good Luck
Japanese for sliced raw fish, most typically ahi (Big Eye or Yellowfin Tuna), sashimi is easily the most popular “Good Luck” food that locals must have to help celebrate the New Year. So much so, that it’s not just a Japanese tradition anymore. It’s become so popular that almost everyone seems to enjoy the tradition. That and it’s delicious, so any excuse to eat sashimi is a good one.
The now local tradition was started more than a century ago by Japanese immigrants who brought with them from Japan the tradition of eating fresh tai or sea bream for luck in the new year. Neither of those fish varieties are found here, prompting them to substitute ‘ahi. Now, ‘ahi for the New Year is a must-have.
Due to the high demand, prices for the market-fresh fish soar during the holidays, and can cost as much as $50 per pound. This year, Guy Tamashiro, president of Tamashiro Market, estimates that the fish, which normally sells for about $10.95 per pound, will peak this week at about $30 per pound.
2) Mochi Pounding
Japanese Mochi-pounding, the traditional Japanese ceremony of pounding rice into rice cakes, is also as much a part of local New Year traditions as anything else. Mochi rice pounding is done the old fashioned way with a big wooden hammer called an usu. Mochi is a type of Japanese rice cake made with sticky rice that is repeatedly pounded. Making mochi requires at least two people, one person to mercilessly pound the rice and another to roll and wet it to the right consistency. It's hand-molded into mounded patties that are symbols of good luck for the New Year. Here’s a video of people demonstrating the process.
3) Korean Dduk-Gook
Like the Japanese, Koreans eat their own version of a rice cake soup called Dduk-Gook. Koreans say if you don’t eat it on New Year’s Day, you won’t live to see next year.
Sorabol Korean Restaurant (805 Ke‘eaumoku St., 947-3113) serves it up for free on New Year’s Day, so there’s no excuse not to eat a bowl for good luck.
4) Portuguese Grape Eating
The Portuguese herald in the new year by speed-eating. Traditionally, 12 grapes are eaten at the stroke of midnight on New Year’s Eve — one grape on every chime of the clock. The 12 grapes represent the 12 months of the new year. If the grapes are sweet, you’re in for a good year. If there’s a sour grape in the bunch, it means you’ll have one month of bad luck. If all 12 grapes are sour, we suggest pretending they’re extra-sweet. No one has to know, including Lady Luck.
5) Filipino Pancit
The long noodles that make up the traditional Filipino dish pancit are said to grant a long life. Pancit comes in two varieties: pancit bihon (long-rice-style) and pancit kanton (chow-mein-style). Both can be found at Elena’s Restaurant & Coffee Shop (2153 N. King St., 671-3279).
6) Large family gatherings at the beach
Average winter temperature is a sunny 78 degrees, and the ocean is 74 degrees as well, which makes this the perfect place to ring in the New Year at the beach. The most popular beach for New Year’s is Ala Moana Beach Park. This 100-acre park has a wide, gold-sand beach that is over a half-mile long. It also has a large grassy area, which makes it a perfect place for events, picnics, barbecues, large family gatherings, and all sorts of other games and activities. The facilities include picnic tables, lifeguards, showers, restrooms, tennis courts, food concessions, and more.
7) Fukubukuro (Lucky Bag)
Another Japanese New Year tradition that has become popular here in Hawaii. Merchants make grab bags filled with unknown random contents and sell them for a substantial discount, usually 50% or more off the list price of the items contained within (all sales are final). It gets more and more popular every year, and we have a LOT of sales going on this year at some of our most popular shopping centers like Ala Moana Center, International Market Place, and Royal Hawaiian Center.
8) Fireworks To Scare Off Evil Spirits
It all started in China back in the seventh century and has become a worldwide phenomenon. Hawaii residents LOVE fireworks. Maybe too much. The widespread use of firecrackers was a bit overwhelming for the Millennium celebration, so regulations were put in place to help limit the amount we can set off. Pictured is a string of approx 4,582 firecrackers. The people at Pacific Fireworks said this particular item was one of their most popular products.