Updated: Dec 2, 2019
Hawaiians celebrate the holidays in festive fashion, putting some distinctly island twists on timeworn traditions. Here’s what to expect – and what not to expect.
1. You won’t see Santa and his reindeer soaring through the night skies on Christmas Eve. Mr. Claus – Kanakaloka in Hawaiian – is said to make a more island-appropriate entrance, paddling in on a red canoe. He might even be wearing a lei. You know it's Christmas in Hawaii when you see this jolly guy out on the water.
2. Plenty of Hawaiians have traditional fir Christmas trees during the holidays, but the trees have to be shipped in by boat. Some islanders opt for a closer-to-home option. Expect to glimpse Island Norfolk Pines, one of the few pine trees that grow here. Honolulu Hale goes all out for Christmas, and it is beautiful. They set up a 50-foot tall Norfolk Pine tree, Santa + Mrs. Claus, a must see with the family. But you’ll most likely see palm trees decked out for the season.
Thinking of getting your very own Norfolk Pine tree this Christmas? Check our your options here.
3. A white Christmas in Hawaii? Well, not really. Our “snowmen” are made out of sand. You won’t have to worry about your sandman melting, though you might have to worry about your creation being swept away with the tide…But a fair amount of snow does fall every year at the summits of the island’s three tallest volcanoes, Mauna Loa, Mauna Kea and Haleakala. Believe it or not, there’s even a Hawaii Ski Club. During December, some Hawaiians drive to high elevations, fill their pickups with snow and bring a big pile of the powder back down for snowmen, snowball fights and more.
4. Mele Kalikimaka! You’ll hear this phrase a lot during the holiday season. The words are a Hawaiian phonetic translation of “Merry Christmas.” When the missionaries and other Westerners first brought the custom of Christmas to the islands the Hawaiians had difficulty pronouncing Merry Christmas and turned it into words that rolled more easily off their tongues. Not sure how to pronounce it? Well, Bing Crosby himself is here to help you out...
5. Like most places, Christmas dinner is a big part of any holiday celebration in Hawaii. But old-fashioned turkey and ham feasts are not necessarily the norm. Hawaiians enjoy such island delicacies as roast pork, sushi, coconut pudding, poke (poke is the Hawaiian version of ceviche, bits of very fresh fish or shellfish usually marinated in soy sauce (shoyu), sesame oil, a little rice vinegar and various spices.) and Manapua – a barbecue pork-filled bun whose name translates delightfully as “delicious pork thing.”
And after all the Christmas fun and delights...you probably go down to the beach to watch the kids trying out the new surf or boogie boards that Santa brought them for Christmas.
What is your favorite thing about the holiday season in Hawaii? Mele Kalikimaka!