Prior to living in the Lehigh Valley, I was born and raised on Kauai, the Garden Isle. For 12 years, I celebrated Christmas on a white sandy beach of Hawaii.
Upon moving to PA, I was asked what it was like to live in Hawaii. I was especially asked what it’s like to celebrate holidays on the island, specifically Christmas.
In Hawaii, Christmas is celebrated as most would expect it to be. We hang Christmas lights, decorate trees, attend Christmas Eve church service, and wake up Christmas morning to find presents left by Santa. The differences are we do not have a “white Christmas” (the top of Mauna Loa is an exception), Santa sneaks in through the front door (no chimneys in this warm weather), and his elves are referred to as Menehunes1.
What makes Christmas special to all, are the different traditions. Kauai is home to many nationalities including those of Hawaiian and Asian descent. This makes for an array of unique holiday customs. Along with the typical Christmas traditions, my mixed family celebrates with special events and foods only found in Hawaii. This is how my ohana2 celebrates Christmas from the land where palm trees sway!
Admiring Christmas lights is a tradition for all. Our family tradition was to visit the Festival of Lights at the historic county building. Outside of the building, rows of palm trees are wrapped from top to bottom with strands of lights. Inside, the foyer is transformed into a Christmas wonderland. Not only are you able to visit Santa, but you can also see figurines and ornaments of Hawaii novelties, such as hula dancers and cans of Spam. One of the more unique features is the handmade Christmas décor made by Auntie Josie and volunteers. To see more about this 19th annual tradition, visit www.kauaifestivaloflights.com.
The best part about the holidays on Kauai is the large amount of food we all consume. My Filipino family has just that; lots and lots of food. We have the signature items like Christmas cookies and ham. However, our ham is marinated in a guava jelly glaze, and our sides include white rice, pancit (Filipino noodles), and ‘opihi (edible limpets indigenous to Hawaii, served best raw with seasonings). For dessert, Chinese pretzels. Similar to the Pennsylvania Dutch tradition of eating pork and sauerkraut on New Year’s Day, our family ate butter mochi (a cake-like dessert derived from Japanese rice cakes) for good luck in the new year.
As you could imagine, traditional Christmas trees, like firs and nobles, are limited on the island. Instead, Islanders decorate Norfolk Island Pines, also known as the Hawaiian Christmas tree. Although it is not as popular as in the past, you’ll still find Hawaiian Christmas trees throughout the island and remainder of the state.
No matter what part of the world you’re in or what holiday you celebrate, each family has its own traditions. Although I no longer live on Kauai, I hope to carry on the traditions that I partook in as a keiki3, as I hope all who have relocated will do as well. Mele Kalikimaka4 and Hau’oli Makahiki Hou5!
A special mahalo to Brittany Thomas for picture contributions in this post.
- Menehunes – a dwarf-size, mythical Polynesian
- Ohana – Family
- Keiki – Child
- Mele Kalikimaka – Merry Christmas
- Hau’oli Makahiki Hou – Happy New Year