The modern Hawaiian Christmas is a mix of traditions brought by 18th century explorers and missionaries, combined with the winter solstice celebration of the ancient Hawaiians.
Hawaiians observed Makahiki, a four-month celebration around the winter solstice that was a time to thank the gods for the food drawn from the land and sea. At the heart of the festival was the god Lono, who represented fertility and growth. His image in the form of a tiki was carried throughout the islands.
During Makahiki, it was forbidden for warriors of rival clans to go to sea in war canoes. This ensured that the time could be spent in peaceful celebrations and feasts featuring pig and fish.
The festival also marked the beginning of the new year, a time when Hawaiians say "Hauoli Makahiki Hou" - roughly "happy new year to you."
The Western version of the holidays came to Hawaii on Dec. 25, 1786. The British ship Queen Charlotte was anchored off present-day Waimea, on the west side Kauai. This was eight years after Capt. James Cook had come into Waimea Bay and "discovered" what he would call the Sandwich Islands, after the Earl of Sandwich, the Lord of the Admiralty.
According to the accounts of the Queen Charlotte's captain, George Dixon, a search party was sent ashore. The group caught a wild pig, which was roasted by the ship's cooks. Sailors mixed their traditional rum ration with the milk of coconuts taken from the island in what may be the first recorded pina colada in history.
In a celebration that echoed the American Thanksgiving, British officers later extended the season's greetings to the natives by sending "trifles" ashore for women and children on Kauai. Soon after, a local chieftain sent canoes out to the British with pigs and vegetables, the first recorded Christmas gift swap in Hawaii.
The missionaries who arrived in 1820 had a more restrained view of Christmas and did not organize active celebrations for several years. But as other branches of Protestant evangelists, along with Catholic priests, arrived in the islands, the various traditions of Christmas became known. Traders and sailors who arrived in the missionaries' wake were more likely to celebrate the holiday. By 1837, a Honolulu newspaper published salutations of "Merry Christmas" and "Happy New Year."
In 1856, King Kamehameha IV moved the official national day of Thanksgiving to Dec. 25, more than coincidentally coinciding with Christmas. A large Christmas party was held on the royal grounds in 1858, including what is believed to be the first Christmas tree in the islands.
Christmas became an official Hawaiian holiday in 1862. Historical accounts said the occasion was marked by the firing of cannons and flaming tar poured down the sides of Punchbowl Crater in Honolulu to re-create the image of a volcano.
16 December 2010
Through history: Christmas in Hawai'i
Writing for the Miami Herald, Gary Warner offers a brief history of Christmas in Hawai'i: