Christmas in Hawaii -- Hawaii Challenge -- Christmas in Different Lands

As part of the Multicultural Kids Blog's annual Christmas in Different Lands Series, we are taking a look at Christmas in Hawaii. I figured since we are participating in our Hawaii Challenge we might as well find out what Christmas is like on the islands.


Now of course Europeans and Americans brought Christmas to Hawaii. Before the westerners came to Hawaii, a winter feast called Makahiki was celebrated from about November until February. It was like a four month Thanksgiving to celebrate the local god, Lono. It prohibited wars. All work stopped and offerings were made and feasts, dance, sport and other celebrations occurred. Some of the traditions are still celebrated today. Of course Makahiki was actually one of their two seasons and it started with at tax. There is a push now to pull in some of the traditions and especially the spirit of no wars or fighting and getting along back into the season.

The first Christmas celebration in Hawaii occurred in 1786 on Kauai. A merchant ship was anchored there and its crew roasted a pig to celebrate Christmas. To this day roasted pig is often eaten at Christmas celebrations. 
Hawaiians roasting pig for luau, c. 1890
Hawaiians roasting a pig c. 1890 See page for author [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
The festival of Christmas was introduced to Hawaiian natives when New England Protestant missionaries visited and taught them about Jesus and Christmas. This happened around 1820. King Kamehameha IV and Queen Emily of Hawaii celebrated Christmas as a day of Thanksgiving in 1856.In 1858 Mary Dorminis threw a party on Christmas Eve that had the first Christmas tree and Santa Claus in Hawaii. Then in 1862 King Kamehameha IV declared Christmas an official holiday.


The Hawaiian language only has thirteen letters in it and every syllable has to end in a vowel. Using only these rules the phonetic rendering of Merry Christmas is Mele Kalikimaka

Need help pronouncing Mele Kalikimaka? Here is a video with Bing Crosby's song to help you get the correct pronunciation.

As for the Christmas tree, well evergreens do not grow well in the tropics. So many Hawaiians associate Christmas with the Christmas Tree Ships. There were and are ships that bring the pine trees to Hawaii so the people who want a real tree can have one. Back in the day there was competition for a tree since they were in very short supply. 

As for decorations they can vary with a little Hawaiian twist from the traditional. Some will include the bright tropical flowers and fruit found in Hawaii. Others have ones that are similar to here with characters and balls, stars, etc. For a craft idea be sure to check out the cute hula gingerbread girl ornament over at Sassy Sweet Daisy. 

Santa does not arrive in a sleigh pulled by flying reindeer in Hawaii. He also changes his suit to a short sleeved suit or short sleeve shirt and shorts. He arrives on a bright red outrigger canoe. A big wave brings him ashore. Santa is called Kanakaloka

Christmas lights are quite a big deal in parts of Hawaii. The most famous is Honolulu City. It is a month long annual event run by the Friends of Honolulu City Lights. The centerpiece the the 55-foot tree that lights up Honolulu Hale -- the equivalent of the city hall. Sitting near the tree are Shaka Santa and Tutu Mele (Mrs. Claus). You can see them in the first photo on this page with the tree one year.
Christmas Tree 2010 (5288749575)
Honolulu Tree 2010 by Daniel Ramirez from Honolulu, USA [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

It also includes a parade and more. 

Christmas Day

Like most places Christmas often means a big meal. As I mentioned above one tradition is to have a Christmas pig. The pig is often called a Kalua Pig and is cooked traditionally in a imu or underground oven. This requires digging a pit and cooking the pig on hot coals and banana leaves. Other traditional Christmas dinners include sushi, coconut pudding, Manapua, a barbecue pork-filled bun, lomi lomi salmon, ahi poke, and poi.

After the big dinner most people head to the beach for some surfing, swimming and relaxing. A very different Christmas than here in New England!

Now as always I tried to find some children's books about Christmas in Hawaii. Being in New England our library did not actually have books about Christmas in Hawaii. This was unfortunate. I did find two books that share a bit about it though (and one has a cookie recipe for Pineapple Macadamia Bars). 

Looking at Amazon there are better choices out there

Christmas Music

I was able to find a Hawaiian Christmas CD at the library. This one has mostly common Christmas songs sung in Hawaiian slack key style.

For some more ideas of what Hawaii is like at Christmas time and for some Hawaiian Christmas music, check out these music videos.

The pictures in this one as well as the gifts of the Twelve Days of Christmas are also cultural.


Christmas in Different Lands 2019 | Multicultural Kid Blogs 
Welcome to our seventh annual Christmas in Different Lands series! Each participating blogger will share about Christmas in another culture or country. For even more glimpses of global Christmas celebrations, see our series from previous years (2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, and ) plus follow our Christmas board on Pinterest! Follow Multicultural Kid Blogs's board Christmas Around the World on Pinterest.

Participating Blogs

December 9 Crafty Moms Share
December 12 Pack-n-Go Girls
Celebrate Christmas Around the World Printable Pack from Multicultural Kid Blogs
Don't miss our other posts about Christmas in different lands, plus our printable pack Celebrate Christmas Around the World, on sale now!