christmas in hawaii

Hang looks with Mr. and Mrs. Clause. (Photo: Alamy)

Tips + Trends

Celebrate the Holidays in Hawaii? Yes, Please!

Not to knock Aunt Mimi’s famous stuffing or Grandpop’s rum-heavy eggnog, but sometimes, holiday traditions need a shake-up. Trade leftover turkey for a Thanksgiving dinner on the beach at sunset. Swap the red turtleneck for a red bathing suit. Exchange New Year’s sleet for a beautifully manicured, oceanside golf course.

Spending the holidays in Hawaii will certainly expose visitors to new traditions. First, forget the sled — Santa arrives on the islands by outrigger canoe. Plus, Merry Christmas and Happy New Year are “Mele Kalikimaka” and “Hau ‘oli Makahiki Hou.”

Perhaps best of all, holiday meals are often a wonderful mishmash of foods from many cultures: Turkey or ham and the fixings may also be joined by pork hash, a platter of sushi and sashimi, and laulau (meat or seafood steamed inside a taro leaf wrapper).

If visiting Hawaii is on your wish list for the holidays, here’s where — and how — to celebrate the season, island style.

If You Love … Black Friday Shopping

Each year, the Volcano Village Artists Hui hosts an art studio tour and sale held over the Thanksgiving weekend. Located in cooler, often-misty Volcano Village on Hawaii Island, this artists’ haven is the perfect place to scoop up moderately priced art.

Plan to check out demonstrations at the art studios showcasing the Hui members doing their metal forging, watercolor painting, jewelry design, tile making and more.

If You Love … Classic Holiday Songs like “Blue Christmas”

Elvis is alive and well and pompadoured at Rock-A-Hula. The Waikiki-based show takes audiences through Hawaii’s musical eras, from the 1920s to the present, with Polynesian dancers, singers, musicians and, yes, an Elvis impersonator.

Oh, there will also be red-hot, fire-knife dancing. Take that, Rudolph. Rock-A-Hula has holiday shows scheduled for Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve, Christmas and New Year’s Eve.

If You Love … Holiday Lights

Downtown Honolulu goes all out with its displays, including a 21-foot-high Santa throwing a shaka sign (like the “hang loose” sign), and creative ways of bedazzling the swaying palm trees. The monthlong Honolulu City Lights is a beloved community favorite, with people zooming around in trolleys to check out the decorations. (Here’s a trolley tour option.)

Highlights are opening night and the Electric Light Parade, but more festivities — including a milk-and-cookie night — continue through the end of December. Kids rides, food vendors and photos with Santa are on offer nightly through Christmas Eve.

Another option: Kauai has a Festival of Lights on weekends in December, which creates a glittering winter wonderland inside the Historic County Building in Lihue. Bejeweled SPAM tree ornaments? Glitzy fake roosters? Yes, please.

If You Love … Baking Holiday Cookies

Mochi — small, gooey, sweet rice cakes — comes via Japanese culture and has been popular in Hawaii for generations.

At the New Year, mochi-pounding events let people try their hand at swinging large wooden mallets (kine) to make the tasty dessert. Wailea Village has a large annual mochi pounding, on Hawaii Island’s Hamakua Coast. So grab that mallet; it’s for good luck!

If You Love … Festive Parties

On Maui, the Ritz-Carlton Kapalua is known for its lavish holiday celebrations. Think caviar, oysters, champagne and swanky theme parties. (To recover, may we suggest the bloody mary bar at the resort’s Ulana restaurant?) Also, don’t miss the seasonal spa offerings like the Buttered Rum Holiday Massage.

On Oahu, The Royal Hawaiian, a Luxury Collection Resort, Waikiki also goes full-out for the holidays. A few ideas: Get a full Thanksgiving meal prepared to go and take it to the beach for an unforgettable dinner, try the Christmas Day farm-to-table brunch, or toast the New Year while enjoying fireworks and champagne at the lavish “Adventures in Wonderland” bash.