Since ancient times, rituals and merrymaking help us warm the chill of the holiday season with our closest family and friends. But have you ever wondered how the holidays are celebrated in tropical climates? Most of us associate Christmas and Hanukkah with a roaring fire and a thick blanket of snow. In places like Hawaii, people find the Christmas spirit as easily on the beach as mainlanders do gathered around the hearth. Here are some of the unique traditions celebrated during the holidays in the Hawaiian Islands.
Hawaiian Santa Claus
Christmas in Hawaii has many of the same traditions as on the mainland—but with a tropical twist. For example, the Hawaiians have Kanakaloka, the jolly bearded man also known as Santa Claus.
- Santa Claus arrives for Christmas in a bright-red outrigger canoe.
- Don’t be surprised to find Santa decked out in a Hawaiian shirt and bright red swim trunks. He sometimes even rides his surfboard right up to the beach! The long white beard, however, is the same here as everywhere else.
- Santa first visited the Hawaiian Islands in 1858 when he took presents to the children at the official residence of the Governor of Hawaii.
Hawaiian Christmas Traditions
On Hawaii, the only “white” Christmas is on a white sand beach, and roaring fireplaces are about as popular coal in your stocking. The remote Hawaiian Islands are far away from the cold, cozy environments where most Christmas traditions were created, so Hawaiians are a little creative with how they celebrate the holidays.
- Christmas wasn’t celebrated in Hawaii until 1820 when Western missionaries brought the tradition with them to the Islands. Unaccustomed to their dialect, the Hawaiians had a hard time pronouncing “Merry Christmas” and so it became “Mele Kalikimaka,” a native phrase that rolled more easily off their tongues.
- Local Norfolk Island pine trees are often decorated with beautiful fresh flowers instead of garland and tinsel.
- For traditional firs and pine trees, Hawaiians line up at the docks in early December to await the “Christmas Ship” bearing refrigerated containers filled with trees.
- Families often decorate palm trees with bright lights and string ornaments on outdoor hanging plants.
- Christmas carols are sung to the sounds of ukuleles and slack key guitars while dancers perform the hula.
- Most homes don’t have fireplaces, so stockings are hung throughout the house.
- Festive outfits incorporate fresh flower leis instead of bright Christmas sweaters.
Hawaiian Christmas Food
Hawaiian food, famous for its fresh and tropical flavors, is never better than during the holiday season. Local culinary customs fuse with mainland holiday traditions to create something truly delicious and uniquely Hawaiian.
- Rather than turkey and stuffing, Hawaiians enjoy sticky rice, poke, sashimi, sushi, halo halo, and Kalua pig, which is cooked in an underground oven. The unique array of food represents all the cultures who have made their home in the Islands.
- The Christmas meal is most often a luau served beachside or in the backyard.
- Instead of cranberries, holiday pies are made with red ohelo berries that grow in the high mountain elevations.
Enjoy Hawaiian Christmas Traditions for Yourself with YMT Vacations!
You can explore the magic of a Hawaiian winter for yourself on one of YMT Vacations’ legendary Hawaiian tours. Enjoy the value-packed Best of Hawaii Four-Island Tour or the unique Hawaiian Islands Cruise & Tour. Experience the holidays island-style or visit anytime on one of our year-round departure dates! To make your plans to join one of our once-in-a-lifetime trips, call your travel consultant or YMT Vacations at 1-888-756-9072.