7 unique Hawaiian Christmas traditions you won't find anywhere else

Hot weather, sandy beaches and indigenous culture has influenced some unusual Hawaiian Christmas traditions. Many Hawaiians swap pine trees for palm trees and snowmen for sand men. Locals wear shorts and Hawaiian shirts and eat sticky rice instead of potato. If your ideal white Christmas is actually a sandy beach and tropical climate, perhaps you’ll enjoy these seven Hawaiian Christmas traditions that make Aloha State so unique.

1. Before Christmas there was Makahiki

Prior to Christianity, Hawaiians would celebrate the indigenous tradition of Makahiki. Based on the lunar calendar, the four-month long festival focused on resting and eating to celebrate the earth and the local god, Lono. Now this period is mixed with Christmas but the most important thing has stayed – food! Hawaiians feast on everything from candy and fruitcake to poke, sashimi and sushi, to traditional standards like turkey.

Hawaiian food

2. Christmas trees arrive by ship

The tropical island climate isn’t ideal for growing beautiful pine trees but many locals still want a stunning fir tree to hang decorations on. Enter the Christmas tree ship. What was just one per year has turned into a few ships that dock in early December, bringing refrigerated containers with genuine Christmas trees inside.

Hawaiians also like to decorate palm trees with Christmas lights to bring some festive spirit to town.

Palm trees with Christmas lights

3. Santa arrives in an outrigger canoe

Pulled by Dasher and Dancer, Prancer and Vixen, Comet and Cupid, Donner and Blitzen… the dolphins. Yes, it turns out that just like snow, reindeers are a little hard to come by in Hawaii. Locals get creative and send Santa on his way through the Pacific Ocean in an outrigger canoe pulled by dolphins.

Santa at the beach

4. Families feast on Kālua pig

Families and communities gather in their backyards or at the beach for a festive feast or traditional luau. Christmas for Hawaiians means feasting on a Kālua pig. Kālua is a traditional style of cooking that involves an “Imu” or underground oven. The pig is buried in the earth with hot rocks and banana leaves. After plenty of time and patience, the pig takes on an incredible texture and flavour that locals believe is worth the wait.

Traditional Hawaiian luau

5. Carols are sung in Hawaiian

Hawaiians pull out the ukulele or a guitar and sing their own versions of Christmas carols. Sung in Hawaiian, expect a luau or family feast to turn into a big sing-a-long with hula dancing too. One of our favourites is their version of the 12 Days of Christmas. You can discover more Hawaiian Christmas songs here.

6. Deck the trucks with bells of holly

Hawaiians like to dress up their cars and trucks with thousands of lights and parade them through the streets. People line the footpaths as vehicles pass honking horns and blasting carols. With the warm climate Christmas is a time to be outdoors, making it easy to find parades on any island.

7. Greet as the locals do

Forget saying Merry Christmas or Happy Holidays. Mele Kalikimaka is the thing to say on a bright Hawaiian Christmas day. Say this to wish people a wonderful festive season. Apparently Hawaiian dialects didn’t have an “R” or “S” in their speech, so this is the literal equivalent of Merry Christmas. Need help pronouncing it? Bing Crosby’s famous Christmas cover helped popularise the term.

Does your country or state have unusual Christmas traditions? We’d love to hear about them – leave us a comment below!


Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments

Sign up to our newsletter

Sign up to our newsletter and receive $250 of FREE Trafalgar travel credit

Terms and Cons*

Generic filters
Exact matches only
Search in title
Search in excerpt
Search in content
Send this to a friend