Tradition

tradition

In Hawaii, there was no silence.  The fireworks started early, long before the sun had set, pipe bombs blasting outside my office.  In Ohio, New Years hadn’t really been a big deal.  It wasn’t even on anyone’s mind until later, until the sun was down, 11PM clustered in the kitchen, watching the countdown. There would be bottle rockets and sparklers and maybe a few of the neighbors might have something larger, but by 1am the noise had died and everyone had trickled back to bed.

Hawaii takes their New Years very seriously.  And perhaps it’s the weather, not having to worry about frostbite as you’re lighting the fuse.  And almost certainly it’s a cultural thing, drawn from traditions past, the high influence of Asian culture.  I hadn’t expected it, despite what others had warned, I hadn’t expected the entire day to be devoted to explosions and lights.  I hadn’t expected the war zone, dodging firecrackers on the streets, wading through clouds of smoke, and everyone else so apathetic, so accustomed to it.  I hadn’t expected the defeaning noise at midnight, the entire island welling with noise, ringing of ears after.

I forgot to watch the ball drop, both live (at our 7pm) and delayed, five hours later.  Tradition lost. There were no cheers, no clink of glasses, no champagne, no kiss at midnight.  There was no silence.

New Years Day was the silence, and the aftermath, streets scattered with the remnants of the night before, otherwise deserted as revelers laid in on recovery.  A casual phone call from my mother, a question that startled me; “Have you had your sauerkraut today?”  It was a tradition I’d completely forgot, one I’d become so accustomed to that it had faded into the background, so commonplace that you take for granted.  My grandmother’s parents brought it with them from Germany, the tradition of eating pork and sauerkraut on New Years Day for good luck, and for most of my life I had hated it, had forced it down at my mother’s insistence.  And now, four thousand miles away, I was struck with a sudden urgency to fulfill my family tradition, at risk of being unlucky for the rest of the year.

I went hunting for Reuben, as I’ve been on a particular Reuben kick for the past few months, although the hunt was surprisingly difficult, most places being closed for the holiday.  One sandwich shop I called had no clue as to what I was talking about, and passed me from person to person trying to figure out what I was saying.  A friend took pity on me, aided in my Reuben search, and finally, nearly 9pm, New Years nearly over, I found my Reuben; and yet, to my dismay, it was made with coleslaw, and not sauerkraut.  My mother assured me this was close enough; to improve my luck, I had some mochi as well, a staple of Japanese New Years.

Hawaii, with all its blending of cultures, is a wealth of tradition.  I grew up with many German traditions, and yet never recognized them as tradition; they were just the things we did every year (which is in fact the definition of tradition).  They’re the sort of things you don’t even realize you do, until you suddenly stop doing them.

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