The first Aloha Festivals took place in 1946 when a group of Jaycees staged a grassroots cultural celebration reminiscent of the Makahiki season of ancient Hawaii. The group wanted to honor Hawaii’s special heritage and celebrate the aloha spirit that the Islands are widely known for.
Plus, it was a great excuse to throw Hawaii’s biggest party.
The initial festival—it was called “Aloha Week” at the time—included a parade, pageants, hula shows and services at Kawaiahao Church in Honolulu. Expanded to the Aloha Festivals in 1991, the event now encompasses some 300 events on six islands spanning a two-month period. Nearly 30,000 volunteers work together to stage the various events, which are attended by nearly a million people each year.
The Aloha Festivals kicks off in September and runs into mid-October. Each island has its own celebration, starting with Oahu’s events including the famous Aloha Festivals Parade. Each island chooses a king, queen, prince, princess, and attendants, all of whom are of Hawaiian descent. The investiture of each island’s Alii is a wonderfully colorful affair, accompanied by conch shell blowers, kahili (feather standard) bearers, ladies-in-waiting and others.
The opening ceremonies on Oahu take place at the Royal Hawaiian Center in downtown Honolulu. The ceremonies are followed by hula performances and the Downtown Hoolaulea, a block party that includes live musical performances on a number of stages, food booths, arts and crafts, and more. An even bigger block party—the Waikiki Hoolaulea—takes place a week later on Kalakaua Avenue.
Aloha Festivals Parade
The stated mission of the Aloha Festivals is to “preserve and perpetuate Hawaiian culture and to celebrate the diverse customs and Aloha Spirit of Hawaii.”
The Aloha Festivals is funded by appropriated public funds, private sponsorships, donations and the sale of Aloha Festivals ribbons and other official merchandise (including T-shirts, caps, visors, CDs, and posters). The ribbon entitles wearers to free or discounted admission to a number of festival events.