Subject: So… the first thing I can think of is- I think it’s broadly East-Asian Japanese at least in Hawaii- but on New Year’s Eve up until New Year’s, aside from cleaning the house and leaving the door open to welcome the New Year, you also light fireworks to scare away any bad spirits. So all throughout Hawaii on New Year’s Eve and through New Year’s after at midnight… there’s fireworks going off and it’s like amazing and super fun.
Interviewer: What’s your personal experience with that tradition? Where’d you experience it or learn about it?
Subject: Um… I grew up with it visiting relatives in Hawaii in Oahu. And it’s not specific to any one island. It’s- as far as I know- practiced all throughout Oahu and on the other islands as well.
Interviewer: Does it mean anything personally to you?
Subject: *laughter* Um, yeah it’s kind of… in general the celebration of the New Year… it’s not just the lighting of the fireworks. You gather with all your family, you eat, and there’s Kalua Pig, which is a traditional Hawaiian dish and it’s cooked in an underground oven called an Imu and smoked with tea leaves. Every part of celebrating, whether it’s preparation throughout the celebration or even after when you clean up and you have the Buddha shrines set up for family members- and that’s more Japanese- but they all contribute to something important to the day itself. Everyone has a role. It’s little kids playing with sparklers. It’s old people watching them. It’s all inclusive.
Context: The subject is a Sophomore studying Law, History, and Culture at USC. She is of Japanese and Ashkenazi descent, and a third generation resident of Hawaii. She is a very close friend of mine, and is currently quarantined at her home in Irvine due to the Coronavirus pandemic. The following conversation happened over a facetime call when I asked her to tell me some traditional folklore connected to her heritage.
Interpretation: I loved hearing about this New Year’s celebration specific to Hawaiian and East-Asian culture and its existing outside the commerciality of American New Year’s celebrations. The subject seemed to note many traditions which originated across different East Asian cultures. Upon further research, I found there are a number of other dishes specific to different cultures and ethnic groups served during the Hawaiian New Year Celebration, such as eating Sashimi for good luck, or Korean Dduk-Gook, or rice cake soup. Hawaii is one of the most culturally diverse states in America, so there seems to be a lot of mixing of dishes and traditions. I also specifically found the scaring away of evil spirits with fireworks to be very fascinating, because while setting off fireworks is globally practiced, the origin of the practice comes from seventh century China. I thought it significant that Hawaii still recognizes and acknowledges the belief behind the practice.