One of the great things about living in a multi-ethnic society is getting all the extra holidays. OK, maybe Prince Kuhio Day is a bit of a stretch. But for those who have already begun backsliding from those well-intentioned New Year's resolutions, Chinese New Year -marking the Year of the Dragon that started on Monday - is like a stroke of forgiveness.
It's as though the first weeks of 2012 were a rough draft for what the Chinese calculate to be 4709. It's like a restart, a second chance to wipe the slate clean and start afresh again.
It's also my annual chance to get together with my friend Ben.
Ben Seng Au is the master of Au's Shaolin Arts Society. For decades now, he has been bringing his troupe of lion dancers to Maui from their homes on Oahu to ring in each new year on the lunar calendar.
Accompanied by drums, cymbals and firecrackers that thrill and mesmerize at the same time, the Chinese way of welcoming this new dawning also feels so energizing - at least compared to watching a ball drop, or starting each Jan. 1 with a hangover.
The lions come in all sizes - some like little Simbas in "The Lion King," others impressive specimens of grace and power. They're all students of Ben, who, besides being the lion tamer, is an umpteenth degree black belt hall of fame martial artist.
In other words, a Shaolin master, right in our midst, whose words of wisdom come surrounded by real-world exigencies (there's always a lot of drama in his day-to-day life) -but whose sense of humor is never far away.
The Chinese calendar is like the horoscope, divided into 12 animal symbols. Being a martial artist, Ben looks at the way creatures move to explain what they "mean."
The Dragon means the most, being an awfully powerful critter. But it's complicated, since, after all, it's an imaginary being in first place.
"The Dragon is a benevolent animal that has a mandate directly from the heavens," Ben explains, summing it up the creature as "mysterious, mystical and mythical."
Capable of being the most feared and ferocious of Zodiac creatures, it is also there to guide us, he says.
"Its mandate is to oversee, guide and protect mankind, but as always, the heavens have their own way of making profound events happen, usually beyond our comprehension."
He's definitely right on that one.
So as much as Chinese New Year is about magical, colorful, fanciful creatures - lions and dragons alike - what it's really about is us. A new year, a brand-new chance for us to make good choices, if we'd care to.
Having begun their performances Wednesday, the lions will be dancing all around the island today through Sunday. You'll find a schedule of their appearances on Page 7.
"Imagine being on the back of the Dragon as if flies through the air with its serpent-like body twisting and flowing like a wave in the ocean," says Ben.
"Our ride this year will be like that. Be prepared for a wild ride and know that if you are selfless instead of selfish, you will be noticed, protected and taken care of and you will find that the ride to be very enlightening and enjoyable," he concludes.
While some of the sentiments of Gung Hee Fat Choy clearly seem most at home in a fortune cookie - this holiday is also all about eating, after all - they're still like rocket science compared to some of the stuff that's been showing up in my inbox in this new year.
Like the one proclaiming, "Authenticity is the buzzword for 2012." It comes from a publicist for a woman promoting her new book, a 52-step program for getting in touch with your own personal authenticity.
I have to admit, I've been noticing a dearth of authenticity in modern American life lately. But I chalk this up to phones that are smarter than we are, interactive dashboards in our cars, the slightly seductive voice of Siri and those five magic words, "There's an app for that."
No wonder we're having trouble finding the real us. But certain questions arise concerning this woman's book. I mean, does the author really know me well enough to make me more authentic? If you buy the book and I buy the book, will we be authentically the same? What if I get your authenticity by mistake?
When it comes to advice for getting real, I'll stick with the 4,000-year-old imaginary beast any day.
* Contact Rick Chatenever at firstname.lastname@example.org