Christmas with a Twist
Even the traditional symbols of Christmas come with a twist in Hawai’i. Consider the Christmas tree. An October 25, 1995 headline in a Honolulu newspaper declares, “Christmas tree ship to arrive on Thanksgiving Day.” The article reads: “It’s still a week to Halloween and a month to Thanksgiving, but Matson Navigation Co. has announced the arrival date for its annual Christmas Tree Ship…most trees for O‘ahu residents will go on sale the day after Thanksgiving.”
Every year, hordes of residents line up at the appointed hour to watch Christmas trees being unloaded from refrigerated containers. They wait for their chance to pick the best of the islands’ limited supply of grand firs, nobles, and other popular varieties.
Until the 1960s, when refrigerated containers started crossing the Pacific in great numbers, such mainland conifers were unavailable. Instead, holiday revelers used Norfolk Island pines, a tree species established in Hawai’i long ago from a South Pacific island “neighbor.”
Although it is no longer as universally popular as in the past, the Norfolk pine is still the Christmas tree of choice for many Island residents. Some visit local nurseries and pick their choice from long, straight rows of a youthful crop. Others buy potted specimens to decorate and illuminate. A few even bootleg them from local forest reserves.
Experts advise against later planting Norfolk pines in small yards after the season ends. The tree will become enormous, and even a menace to nearby buildings and walls.
When it comes to Christmas trees, Hawai’i residents prove themselves to be extremely versatile: Palm trees are frequently decorated for Christmas, especially in outdoor displays and neighborhood yards. They nicely complement displays of Santa riding an outrigger canoe rather than a sleigh, dolphins in place of reindeer, and elves laboring in aloha shirts.
Christmas celebrations are always a little different in Hawai’i. But hey, where else but the Big Island can a person snowboard down the icy slopes of Mauna Kea in the morning, then paddle out in the warm waters of Hapuna that afternoon?
Mele Kalikimaka! (Merry Christmas!)