Hawaiian New Year a Melting Pot of Traditions

December 28, 2006

The New Year will arrive on the Hawaiian Islands with loads of bang, food, and good luck, according to local experts.

The Pacific Ocean islands are home to a culturally and ethnically diverse group of people that have created a unique set of New Year's traditions, explained DeSoto Brown, the collection manager of the Bishop Museum archives in Honolulu (Hawaii map).

In addition to the collective diversity, Brown said, many residents are of mixed ancestry and participate in several traditions at once.

"There is what we refer to as a local identity, meaning not specific of one ethnic group," he said. "But it is an identity—a mixture of things unique to just this location." (Related story: "Persian New Year Transcends Religions, Regimes" [March 17, 2005].)

Celebrate with a Bang

The widespread use of firecrackers is one New Year's tradition that everyone seems to have an opinion about, Brown said.

"It's completely unique and makes an astonishing amount of noise, smoke, and light," he said. "It can be overwhelming."

In the hours leading up to the New Year, people light off thousands of the explosives. The crackle can be deafening, the smoke blinding.

In the morning some streets in Honolulu, the state's largest city, are littered ankle-deep with paper from exploded casings.

The tradition, which Chinese immigrants brought to the islands in the 19th century, was originally meant to scare off evil spirits.

"Now it's for the spectacle and enjoyment," Brown said.

But not everyone loves the display. For example, the Hawaii branch of the American Lung Association annually campaigns for reduced fireworks use, citing dangerous levels of air particle pollution.

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