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8 Things That Might Surprise You About Hawaiian Christmas

  • 7 min read

Meet Shaka Santa who wears flip-flops and shorts, and build a sandman.

Mele Kalikimaka, Merry Christmas everyone!

A few years back, I visited the islands of Hawaii for the first time.

Hawaii is mostly known for the hula dance, poke bowls, big wave surfing, Pearl Harbor, and volcanoes.

Yesterday, I received a Christmas card from Hawaii that brought back some of those incredible memories.

So I thought I’d share with you a few things that you might find puzzling, surprising, or amusing about a tropical Hawaiian Christmas

You won’t find these events anywhere else in the world.

Keep scrolling to learn about 8 Hawaiian Christmas traditions that make Aloha State so unique.

8 Things That Might Surprise You About Hawaiian Christmas

Let’s start with #8:

8 — White tropical Christmas in paradise

White beach with lifeguard, palms, people bathing and enjoying the sun.
Photo by Joris Visser on Unsplash

Imagine beautiful, bikini-clad, athletic surfer girls of the kind you might find on the cover of Women’s Health magazine surfing the waves on Waikiki beach.

Imagine gorgeous, sun-tanned boys in colorful shorts walking along the beach or surfing the crest of the waves.

Imagine yourself, lying on a sun lounger, a yummy smoothie in your hand.

You take off your sunglasses and the world becomes even more colorful: green swaying palm trees, blue sky, and miles of white sandy beaches.

That’s the Hawaiian white Christmas. It’s like paradise.

It has a tropical flair that only the Polynesian islands possess.

7 — You can build a Christmas sandman instead of a snowman

Snowman built of snow in the blue hour after sunset.
© Peter Nagyunyomi Senyi |

Imagine swapping the white snowman with a carrot as a nose for a sandman.


Well, due to its tropical climate, Hawaiian locals celebrate Christmas outdoors. It’s a tradition to celebrate beach activities together. To go to the white beach, surf the waves, and build a sandman.

The sandman is the islands’ version of a snowman.

6 — Parades with thousands of lights

Thousands of colourful lights in Waikiki. Hula dancer with a necklace of flowers.
© James Crawford |

All year round, a popular Hawaiian tradition are city-wide parades. Especially in Hawaii’s capital, Honolulu Waikiki, where the stores are decorated, and there are a lot of outdoor decorations.

In the Christmas Season, these parades include the whole community: young and old parade through the streets to bring some festive spirit to town.

Moreover, Hawaiians like to dress up their cars and trucks with lights and drive through the streets.

5 — Big lighting ceremony of the Christmas tree

Huge Christmas Tree in green and red.
© Jayashri V |

Forget about Rockefeller Center in New York City when you can have this tree lighting ceremony on the island of Oahu in Honolulu.

The huge Christmas tree is decorated with figures like surfing Santa, nēnē (Hawaiian goose), and other unique Christmas decor.

Moreover, there are lit signs with Aloha, meaning love.

4 — Decorated palm trees and refrigerated Christmas trees

Christmas decoration in form of an ananas hanging on a Christmas tree.
Photo by little plant on Unsplash

You may be wondering, what about the Hawaiian residents?

Do they have Christmas trees?

Yes, they do. Christmas trees have become a tradition as well.

There are two options to get a Christmas tree:

  • 1st — You can pick your own tree on a Hawaiian farm and take it home with you.
  • 2nd — In early December, ships dock at Pearl Harbor and bring refrigerated Christmas trees to the island.

Moreover, Hawaiian families also love to decorate palm trees with Christmas lights and Christmas decor.

3 — Kalua Pig

Kalua pig wih side dishes on table.
© Sergii Koval |

Instead of a turkey or ham, the islanders eat a kind of roast pork called kalua pig.

This pig is buried in an imu (underground oven) with hot rocks and banana leaves.

Just like the Christmas turkey, it takes a while until the families can taste its delicious flavor.

But it’s worth the wait!

2 — Shaka Santa’s arrival on Waikiki Beach

Shaka santa with hang loose sign.
© James Crawford |

‘Kanakaloka’ is the Hawaiian word for Santa Claus.

Santa Claus is commonly called Shaka Santa and he’s truly unique. He wears flip-flops, shorts, and an open shirt, and… no he doesn’t have a six-pack but a round belly, like his European counterpart.

Shaka Santa symbolizes the popular ‘hang loose’ hand sign as a gesture of friendly intent you can see on the streets as a greeting sign.

When Santa is waving the hand sign ‘hang loose’ in Hawaii, it means:

be relaxed and refrain from taking anything too seriously.

How cool is that?

You may also be wondering:

How will Santa get into the houses to deliver all the presents on the Hawaiian islands?

That’s easy:

Santa cuts his way through the Pacific Ocean in an outrigger canoe pulled by dolphins.

He arrives at the beach to greet onlookers, accompanied by hula dancers with hibiscus flowers in their hair.

He then reads off his ‘nice’ list to the children and parents of the beach.

How fun is that? Right?

1 — Funny twist to classic Christmas carols

Girl in pink bikini playing the ukulele. Boy is helping her. They are sitting at the beach.
© Tomas Del Amo |

Last but not least here comes my number # 1 of surprising Hawaiian Christmas traditions.

Christmas Carols are a tradition that many of us are familiar with.

Do you want to get into the groove of the Hawaiian Christmas even though you’re miles away?

Your wish is my command, guys.

Listen to the popular carol, 12 Days of Christmas in Hawaiian style:

It’s hilarious!

Here’s a text snippet from the song:

Numbah Twelve day of Christmas, my tutu give to me

twelve television, eleven missionary, ten can of beer, nine pound of poi, eight ukulele, seven shrimp a-swimmin’, seex hula lesson, five beeg fat peeg, foah flowah lei, tree dry squid, two coconut,

An’ one mynah bird in one papaya tree!

I love that they put a Hawaiian twist to this classic Christmas carol.

On Ahiahi Kalikimaka (Christmas Eve), Hawaiians also pull out their ukuleles and sing their own versions of Christmas carols.

Final Takeaways

This story was inspired by an article I’ve written about taking the leap of faith and actually jumping into the unknown to grow!

Mike Goldberg responded and told me he could relate:

I just love the way Christmas is celebrated around the world.

The Hawaiian Christmas is truly special.

Does your country or state have any unusual Christmas traditions?

© Kristina God

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