Shaka Santa and Tutu Mele spend the Christmas
season cooling their heels at the fountain at Honolulu Hale, the City Hall on O'ahu.
Mai hilahila (don't be bashful). Hele on over, make yourself at home, join the ohana (family) on the lanai. We'll have a little plate lunch (or a lot), tune up the uke, make
some music and some friends, and have a good time.
yoah slippahs to da pile..."
(It is customary in Hawai`i to remove your shoes before you enter someone's house, and there is often quite a pile
at the door.)
--by Auntie A.
carols sung in Hawaiian, accompanied by ukulele and slack key guitar; school choirs in mu'u mu'u and Aloha shirts
singing their hearts out on stages large and small all over the islands; impromptu hula, Hawaiian music concerts
and family lu'aus on the beaches and in backyards; and deep in the back country of the Big Island one perfect tree
lit up in front of an old plantation style house.
Christmas in Hawai`i is a special and unique
Even on busy and urbane O'ahu, home to three quarters
of Hawaii's population, the season is celebrated with a touch of old Hawai`i. Sure, if you head to Waikiki Beach
right this minute you'll see the locals who peddle photos of you with their parrots still drumming up business--
but along with their shorts and bikinis they're wearing Santa hats and leis. You just don't see that everywhere
in the world.
Where else would you find a giant barefoot Santa giving shaka (better known as a "hang loose" sign) with his
wife Tutu Mele (formerly known as Mrs. Claus)? Notice that Tutu Mele (tutu
means grandmother) is wearing fashionable Hawaiian attire: a red mu'umu'u with a hibiscus design, a Hawaiian Heritage
bracelet and wedding ring, a kukui nut lei, and a bright red hibiscus in her hair.
And where else would you find a children's choir
dressed in mu'umu'us, a hula halau
performing Christmas hulas, Grammy award winners singing Hawaiian/Christmas music outside and dressed in aloha
wear or tee-shirts-- no jackets, no sequins, no breath steaming in the cold air? And how many other cities dress
up their buses, garbage trucks, cranes, and other hard-working vehicles in thousands of lights for an electric
lights parade through downtown, with horns blaring and shaka being flashed from thousands of hands? And how many
cities of comparable size could draw 20,000 plus spectators to watch it on a rainy evening?
Occasionally I get a little nostalgic
for the Christmases of my youth, with snow on the ground, the air cold and crisp, the particular celebrations unique
to that time. But when that happens a walk through downtown Honolulu rescues me; the softness of the air, the familiar
displays of angels, Santas and reindeer, and the smiling faces of children-- all amid the rustle of palms and the
background whisper of the surf-- remind me of how lucky I am to live in such a beautiful place.
Christmas day is a perfect time for heading up to North Shore. Not much traffic and lots of places to stop and
explore along the way. We take the long way around, along the windward coast, dawdling at every beach turnout that
presents itself and stopping to admire the decorations in out-of-the-way places. When we finally arrive at little
Hale`iwa Town there is always plenty of room to park the car, and never a crowd of people to contend with.
Most of the town is shut down for the day,
of course, but there are restaurants and cafes for conversation and snacks, and it's very pleasant just wandering
around looking the town over all by ourselves. If the surf is up (and it usually is this time of year) it's a treat
to sit at Waimea or one of the other beaches nearby (with other wind-blown and sandy kama`aina) and watch the surfers
and boogie-boarders catching perfect waves under the clean blue Hawaiian sky.
At Hale`iwa's lovely beach park, whole families are often throwing Christmas picnics and we are sometimes invited
to join in. We always bring along some food, just in case this occurs, so that we have an offering to share with
the group. Maybe a big white fluffy coconut cake (a dessert that frequently replaces pie in the islands), which
always endears us to the children.
And of course, if we don't join in someone's
celebration we get to eat it all by ourselves...
The words "Mele Kalikimaka" are a phonetic
translation. 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. (We're glad they did, because it rolls easily off our tongues today, too!)
The Hawaiians didn't celebrate Christmas prior to the arrival of Europeans, of course, but it was during this same
time of the year that they traditionally honored the earth for giving them plenty to eat. This period of resting
and feasting was called Makahiki (mah-kah-HEE- kee). It lasted for 4 months, and no wars
or conflicts were allowed during this time. Because makahiki also means "year", we say " Happy New Year" as "Hau'oli
Makahiki Hou" (how-OH-lee mah-kah-hee-kee ho).
After they embraced Christianity it was only natural that they adapted some of the traditions of Makahiki to the
celebration of Christmas, and as the years passed many other cultures arriving in Hawai`i added some of their own
twists. So today, along with the candy and fruitcake, you'll be likely to find treats like sushi, lumpia, tamales, manapua (mah-nah-POO-ah), poke (POH-keh)
and coconut pudding served alongside the turkey. (Manapua, a Chinese contribution to the island's menu) are sweet,
tender steamed rolls usually filled with chicken or pork; 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.)
Sometimes Christmas dinner in the islands consists
of a traditional lu'au, complete with a pig roasted in an underground pit, chicken long rice
(chicken noodle soup, Hawaiian style), lomilomi
salmon, and poi.
A less formal get-together is called kanikapila (kah-nee-kah-PEE-lah), which means "to make music". You'd be hard pressed in Hawai`i to find any informal
party that didn't include singing, guitars, ukuleles (oo-koo-LEH-leh), and probably some impromptu hula as well!
We ourselves generally roast a turkey with cornbread macadamia nut dressing, and add local style potato salad and
maybe some seaweed salad to replace some of the more traditional side dishes. It's just the two of us-- we can
make our own traditions...
After the meal? Well, if we can still move we'll probably go down to the beach to watch the kids trying out the
new surf or boogie boards that Santa brought them for Christmas. Maybe we'll wear our Santa hats, most certainly
we'll wear leis.
Join us, won't you?