Christmas in Hawai’i

*This is a post from December 2019, before the release of my novel The Aloha Spirit.

With my novel, The Aloha Spirit, coming out next August, my thoughts are in Hawai’i this holiday season. Before Christianity came to the Hawai’ian islands in the 1700s, the Hawai’ians celebrated a four-month tradition called Makahiki, a time when all warfare ceased. The indgenous people gave thanks for the bounty of the islands and celebrated the essence of man’s good will, much like Thanksgiving and Christmas today. Since Christmas falls in the middle of the November to March celebration, it has become part of the traditional celebration.

Christmas is celebrated with a tropical flair in the islands since the weather is warm. The only native pine tree is the Norfolk Pine. Those are definitely used for Christmas trees, but the Douglas fir is popular, too, like it is on the mainland. Island residents eagerly await the Christmas tree ships that bring the trees to Hawai’i. Ornaments for the tree include tropical flowers and fish, ukeleles, glittery flip flops and surfboards as well as colored lights. 

Even though Hawai’i’s taller volcanoes do get snow, Santa Claus, known locally as Kanakaloka, comes in an outrigger canoe instead of a sleigh. Mrs. Claus is known as Tūtū Mele (Merry Grandmother). Every year, huge statues of Kanakaloka and Tūtū Mele look on as a fifty-foot Norfolk pine is lit at Honolulu Hale (city hall). This becomes part of a corridor of lights down King and Punch Bowl Streets. On Christmas Eve, children in Hawai’i leave malasadas (Portuguese doughnuts) for Santa.

You can’t have a holiday celebration without great food. In Hawai’i, they eat kalua pork cooked in an underground imu (oven), sushi, haupia (coconut pudding), manapua (which literally translates as delicious pork thing), and macadamia nut candy instead of fruitcake. Christmas dinner is often eaten on the beach, followed by hula dancing. “Silent Night” is played on the ukelele, along with “Mele Kalikimaka” (Merry Christmas). Hawai’ian shaved ice, the closest you’ll get to snow on the beach, is served in a paper cone and covered with syrup. 

Mele Kalikimaka me ke Hau’oli Makahiki Hou!

(Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!)

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