Stop Mele Kaliki-Mocking

Christmas in Hawaii: It Isn’t What You Might Expect

Zeleyha Mata

Most people think that Christmas in Hawaii is drastically different. If you’re one of those people, I’m here to tell you that whatever you imagine is definitely reaching. We don’t, as my dad so beautifully put it, “run around in loincloths and capture pigs to hang their skins under the Christmas tree,” although that would be very entertaining and probably somewhat liberating.

The beaches are lit up with numerous bonfires made from dried Christmas trees.

Growing up in Hawaii, a place that rarely drops be low 60 degrees Fahrenheit in winter, I can’t say I ever got to experience the typical Christmas that people see in movies since the lack of snow made that pretty impossible. The seasons generally don’t change very much apart from it getting a little “chilly” in winter and having excruciatingly humid summers. But I can’t deny that it is paradise when it wants to be.

From ages 3 to 6 I lived up on a mountain called Hulalai which is where I had my first semi-traditional Christmas. A tree farm was right up the road from our house so when it came time to pick one out, I could hardly contain my excitement. I remember wandering through the mist-laden pines, munching on crab apples and honeysuckles. My dad and I found the perfect tree and brought it back in triumph. But, long story short, I thought the tree would last forever, so when it came time to throw it out, I had quite the mental breakdown, which you could say was my version of finding out Santa isn’t real (sorry kids).

From then on, we celebrated Solstice and only decorated trees growing outside. It wasn’t until I was around 12 that we finally started to practice more common traditions like wearing Santa hats, decorating the house with lights and having stockings for each member of the family (including our dogs and cat). Finally in the last few years I convinced them to give me another shot with the Christmas trees. My birthday is in early January so to make the day more special, we began participating in a popular islander tradition: burning it. Every year after the holidays are over, the beaches are lit up with numerous bonfires made from dried Christmas trees. It’s a pretty great way to close the holiday season and they make the best marshmallow snack under the stars by the crashing waves (although, sand does tend to stick to the marshmallows).

Since we have an abundance of fresh outdoor material, wreath making is also common, especially in a halau (a traditional hula group) like my mom and I were. Palm trees are wrapped in lights and there isn’t a year that goes by without Starbucks being packed with people holding peppermint lattes as they savor the feeling of a cozy afternoon while it’s 70 degrees outside. And of course, Mele Kalikimaka, a song I’m sure you recognize, is played on a constant loop everywhere. But all in all I’d say the Hawaiian Christmas can be pretty special if you are surrounded by people you love, even if we don’t
get a white Christmas.