Friday, December 20, 2013

A "Pele" Merry Christmas

Pele (pronounced "Peh - Ley," almost rhymes with "Merry" if you're British) is the Hawaiian goddess of fire, believed to be currently residing in Kilauea Volcano, about 95 miles from where I live.  I'm not sure what she thinks about the celebration of Christmas, but I bet she likes New Year's -- all those great fireworks!

The Holiday Season in Hawai'i is ..... well, different.  

First, there's the weather. Certainly there are a few places in the mainland U.S. where it is warm at this time of year, and some even have palm trees, like Florida and southern California. But in Hawai'i  the warmth is most often accompanied by "makani olu'olu"  -- pleasant, caressing breezes.  Also, few other places have comfortable temperatures day and night.  Even at this time of year we eat dinner outside on our lanai, where we can see the Christmas lights of our neighbors and look back inside to our own Christmas tree glowing brightly.

But more noteworthy is how Christmas has been adapted to express the local culture and traditions.  For instance,  people frequently decorate their open convertibles with bows, candy canes or wreaths on the front grill or hood, and our annual evening Christmas parade along the waterfront features hula dancers and Santa with a floral lei around his neck. Speaking of Santa, he often arrives here in an outrigger canoe or even on a surfboard wearing board-shorts. The Salvation Army bell ringer at our local Walmart has traded the bell for an ukelele, which she strums as she sings Christmas Carols and hymns. Holiday parties are almost always outdoor affairs, featuring "pupus," appetizers that usually are enough to feed an army and can always be a substitute for a full meal.

Some of the season's traditions are followed even though they are a bit out of place here, and for me it adds to the charm of Christmas in Hawai'i.  For instance, our climate makes it very difficult to grow spruce and pine trees.  Even so, many people are keen on using them to decorate their homes and so boatloads of trees are shipped each year in refrigerated containers from tree farms in the Pacific Northwest. The big-box stores are the best places to obtain these, and people watch closely for the containers to arrive because the best trees sell quickly.  And unlike on the mainland, a new shipment may not arrive very soon, if at all.  (Actually, living in a place where nearly everything is brought in involves being quick to take advantage of the availability of things -- if you don't you'll very likely lose out).  The trees actually last pretty well, probably thinking it is a nice warm spring after a short but chilly winter.

Just like people living on the mainland, Hawaiian residents enjoy decorating the outside of their homes, though too many lights can make the season rather expensive -- we have just about the highest electric rates in the nation.  Still, you see many houses with the usual glowing icicles hanging from roofs, and reindeer, snowmen, and traditionally-dressed Santas in people's yards.  Perhaps we appreciate these all the more because we know the expense of lighting them.  Of course, icicles, reindeer and snowmen do not really exist here and it can seem odd to see them side by side with orchids, hibiscus, and bougainvillea.  Oh, actually I'm wrong about snowmen.  Occasionally during this time of year snow does fall on 13,000-foot Mauna Kea and ambitious residents will drive to the summit, fill their pickups with a load then rush down to their homes or to the beach and build a snowman.  Of  course it lasts maybe two hours, max.

New Year's Eve celebrations feature a LOT of fireworks, both the big institutional displays like on the mainland (here provided by the fancy resorts), and also more private shows set off in front of people's houses.  The weather encourages this outdoor activity, of course, but also it is probably an expression of our large Asian culture that embraces fireworks in a big, big way. A week or so before New Year's fireworks are on sale in supermarkets, drug stores, and of course the big box stores like Costco, where they have prepackaged assortments that range from small to humongous.  My wife only lets me indulge in one of the smaller assortments.  Fireworks have become much more tightly regulated in the last 10 years or so in an attempt to cut down on fires and injuries, but New Year's celebrations here still more closely resemble July 4th on the mainland.

One final noteworthy aspect of the Holidays here has to do with the spirit of the season -- the feeling of warmth toward others, generosity, compassion and joy at being with loved ones.  This of course is the spirit emphasized by seasonal music, greeting cards, media specials, etc.  But here it is called the Spirit of Aloha and one of the best parts about living in Hawai'i is that it lasts all year......

Mele Kalikimaka (Merry Christmas) and Hou'oli Makahiki Hou (Happy New Year)!


Dennis Nord said...

Mele Kalikimaka indeed! I like the sound of that & it's easy to feel welcomed by it. Nice way to celebrate the season. I like the Santa/Snowman in your photo. This year our favorite decoration is an El Camino with a Xmas tree in back, both lit up with strings of lights, one color on the truck and the other for the tree.

DoctorMcLovin said...

Way to rub it in. Happy holidays.

Sandra Woy-Hazleton said...

Stirs up good memories, we are looking at 60degrees with rain today after having had 8 inches of snow just days ago (which was beautiful)-- just too unpredictable!!

Larry Sherman said...

hey Dick: Looks like you have it all under control. Happy SOLSTICE today! Cheers from the other Shermans in Colorado.

Coleen Hanna said...

I just got around to reading this. Good education for me. I've always been in a cold climate for Christmas (I'm kind of a Scrooge so I probably would be complaining about the festivities even in Hawaii, sorry!)