Mele Kalikimaka! Extraordinary Hawaiian Christmas Traditions

Hawaii may be part of the United States, but Hawaiian Christmas traditions deviate delightfully from the standard

If you’ve ever had the pleasure of visiting Hawaii during Yuletide, you’ve experienced the unique joy of Hawaiian Christmas traditions. Of course, when you live in a natural paradise, it’s easy to have fun — but Hawaiians make a truly serious effort come the holiday season.

Mele, Mele!

It’s more than just “Mele Kalikimaka!”, which is all that many of us haole know about Hawaiian Christmas (Thanks, Bing). By the way, this is simply a transliteration of “Merry Christmas” into Hawaiian, which lacks the “r,” “ch,” and “s” sounds (among others).

Interesting, yes? Your Humble Writer has a close friend whose Hawaii name translates as “Paloika.” That’s a bit more poetic than the English “Floyd,” wouldn’t you say?

Palm Trees and Christmas Lights

It seems more than a bit exotic to see palm trees, sometimes complete with coconuts, swathed in Christmas lights. (Though businesses have to remove the coconuts, lest they fall and conk some litigious tourist on the head).

And just hope you don’t have the joy of seeing, as Your Humble Writer has, Surfing Santa complete with Speedo. To quote Bob and Doug MacKenzie: Ooh, scary, eh?

Sneaky Snake

Seriously, Hawaiians love their Christmas trees. Those who can sometimes grow them in their yards and decorate them as necessary. Others eagerly await shipments of the classic conifers from the mainland.

During the Christmas season Yours Truly spent in Honolulu, a harmless green snake hitched a ride in a tree container and got loose on the streets of the city. This caused a good bit of excitement, since Oahu is as innocent of snakes as Ireland.

Tiny Bubbles…

Our 50th state was a sovereign nation before joining the U.S.A. It also has a longer time-depth than most of the U.S. in terms of occupation… so it’s no surprise that Christmas is a bit different there.

In addition to Santa wearing an aloha shirt and lei and traditional Christmas dinner being the luau, with roast pork and haupia replacing turkey and pie, expect Christmas carols played on the ukulele and snowless beach celebrations in Santa hats, bikinis, and, yes, the dreaded Speedo.


If you look close and know Hawaiian history, you may recognize Makahiki, an old four-month New Year celebration originally intended to honor the Earth but later Christianized. Native candy, fruitcake, and nutty dishes still retain the flavor of old Makahiki, but that’s about it.

Oh, and if you stick around until New Year’s Eve, expect to stay awake very late listening to the firecrackers going off in strings of thousands at a time, layering the evening air with gun smoke.

While not exactly a Hawaiian Christmas tradition, it’s one of the season’s most noticeable, inherited from Chinese immigrants.