owzit! 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.
“Jus add 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.)
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. (I’m glad they did, because it rolls easily off my tongue, too!)
In Hawai’i, Santa shows up in a bright red outrigger canoe, (a magic one of course) which carries him across the wide sea and right up onto the beach. Since Hawai’i only gets snow on top of the highest mountains (which are volcanoes!) on the Big Island and Maui, sleighs aren’t much use and the reindeer get to take a little rest while deliveries are being made in the Islands.
The Hawaiians didn’t celebrate Christmas prior to the arrival of Europeans, 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 the Hawaiians 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 the following served alongside the turkey (or the roasted pig):
- manapua (mah-nah-POO-ah),
- poke (POH-keh) and
- coconut pudding
(Manapua 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.)
Often (for the lucky ones) Christmas dinner consists of a backyard lu’au, complete with a pig roasted in an underground pit called an imu (eemu), chicken long rice (chicken noodle soup, Hawaiian style), lomilomi salmon, and poi. You can see the smoke rising from imus all over the islands, as family and friends gather for the occasion at the home of whoever has the biggest yard.
An informal get-together, this could maybe more accurately be called a kanikapila (kah-nee-kah-PEE-lah), which means “to make music”. It’s Hawaii’s version of a jam session, a spontaneous and joyous outburst of dancing and singing just for the fun of it. You’d be hard pressed in Hawai`i to find any informal party that didn’t include singing, guitars, ukuleles (oo-koo-LEH-leh, not yookoolehleh), and probably some impromptu hula as well!
On O’ahu Honolulu Hale, the City Hall in downtown Honolulu, is the focal point for decorations at Christmas time (hale, pronounced “hah-lay”, means “house” or “home”). And boy-oh-boy does the island get decorated! From little Hale’iwa on the north shore to sprawling Waikiki in the south; from rural Wai’anae on the ewa (west) side to urban Kaneohe and Kailua on the windward (east) side; from Pearl Harbor to Manoa Valley; from Barbers Point to Wahiawa: O’ahu likes to get dressed up for the holidays!
Where else would you find a giant barefoot Santa giving a shaka (better known outside of Hawai`i as a “hang loose” sign) with his wife Tutu Mele (formerly known as Mrs. Claus? You may notice that Tutu Mele is making a fashion statement by wearing 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.)
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, dressed in aloha wear — 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? And how many cities of comparable size could draw 20,000 plus spectators to watch it?
Our Christmas songs include the traditional ones, often sung in the beautiful and melodic Hawaiian language, as well as many that are completely original to Hawai’i– such as the famed Mele Kalikimaka, of course.
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.
Join us, won’t you?
“Nau wale no” (Just for you)…
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