As I write this I’m picking a bit of dried cookie dough off my (significant) bosom, launched there by the enthusiastic dough-wrangling efforts of my niece and nephew this evening at our annual Christmas decorating/baking bash. Christmas in Hawaii is a lot like Christmas everywhere else, but with some important differences:
It’s warm. Relatively. I mean, we residents are cracking out long pants and a sweatshirt and complaining, while Mainland visitors ecstatically burn in bikinis.
Fake snow: because it’s warm, snowmen, flocking, spray-on snow, and even plastic reindeer on the lawn assume a comical aspect, but locals enthusiastically decorate with them anyway to the detriment of good taste. (Most of the kids at my school have never seen real snow.)
The holiday food: prior to Christmas, local Hawaii residents are big on giving everyone food gifts, and many of these may not be familiar. All the multicultural foods of Hawaii are represented in excess: fancy gift boxes of senbei (exotic Japanese crackers) mochi, Kona coffee, macadamia nuts, almond cookies, haupia, nori and chocolate in every form abound. This is not the time to start a diet.
Christmas luau/dinner: families gather in a BIG way and usually the imu, underground oven, is used to roast all manner of meats (sorry to my veg readers) including turkey, whole pigs, fish, and even lowly chickens. The steam generated, ti leaves and hot stones as well as hours of baking make imu-roasted food unbelievably delicious. If you can’t make your own imu, a neighbor or church is usually hosting a communal one so you can drop off a turkey or pig for inclusion. People are aloha that way.
Gift giving: local culture is big on gifts. Teachers, mail carriers, bosses, employees, Rotary Club members, everyone is expected to give and receive at the holidays. I bought a big stack of macadamia nut chocolates for the many people I’m sure I’ll forget that I’m expected to recognize. Failure to participate is seen as an indication you don’t really belong here in the Islands.
Christmas trees: we don’t have hardly any pines here, so trees are flown in annually from Canada, Oregon and Seattle. Those who can’t afford a “real” tree have fake ones or Norfolk pines, which were all I experienced growing up, in the days before shipping the trees became affordable to the masses.
The music: as I’ve said on other blogs, Hawaiian culture is very big on music and a lot of Hawaii people attend church. Christmas pageants, choruses and performances are marked by heartfelt beauty and adaptations like religious hula and ukulele bands leading Christmas carols.
Surfing on Christmas morning: nothing better than getting out in the water, everyone’s in a good mood, and the aloha spirit is a tangible thing.
I highly recommend Christmas in Hawaii, at least once a lifetime.