Just because there’s no sleighs and snowflakes doesn’t mean Hawaii doesn’t know how to celebrate Christmas. In fact, the islands have put their own fun twists on mainland traditions: horses instead of reindeer, ornamented banyan trees instead of evergreens, and beachside pig roast luaus instead of turkey dinners. For some great advice on how and where to spend a Hawaii Christmas, we’ve got you covered.
Things to Do
Honolulu City Lights
For a month-long celebration of Christmas spirit on the island of Oahu, Honolulu City Lights is the best way to get festive. The festival kicks off on December 2nd with the lighting of a 50-foot tree followed by an electric light performance. The parade throughout the month changes themes from year to year, but it always has perennial floats like Santa and Mrs. Claus throwing up shaka hands. Groove to Mele Kalikimaka (the island’s Christmas anthem), and wander the food booths to gorge yourself on poi, laulau, kalua pig, and Lomi salmon in true Hawaiian Christmas fashion.
Greet Santa on the Beach
As the story goes, Santa is apparently unable to land his sleigh on the island, so he ditches Rudolph and arrives on an outrigger canoe on the shores of Honolulu in early December. He usually stakes out at some of the resorts, so feel free to visit him to take pictures and make your annual gift requests.
Rock Around the Banyan Tree
In Maui’s historic district of Lahaina, there’s a massive, famous banyan tree that stretches over 60 feet high and sprawls its roots over an acre in area. Each December, residents gather to string the hundreds of branches with thousands of colorful lights. For weeks there’s a lively community of arts and music taking place beneath its canopy, which makes it one of the best activities for Hawaii’s holiday season.
Jingle Rock Fun Run
December in Honolulu is the time to put the ‘sweat’ in ‘ugly sweater’. Grab your funkiest Christmas garb and jog through downtown as part of the Make-a-Wish Foundation’s annual Jingle Rock Fun Run. The race is untimed and it’s more about the good cause and Hawaiian Christmas spirit than breaking any records. This year it will be taking place at the State Capitol Building on December 16th, 2018.
See a Boat Parade
Where else can you be comfortable in a t-shirt and flip-flops in December and watch a boat parade? Kailua Kona is one of the Big Island’s prettiest towns where the foot of a volcano meets the Pacific Ocean. Here, you can walk out to the pier, set up a chair, and watch the brightly-lit boats float by the marina. Stroll into town and catch some live Christmas music with a Hawaiian twist. Elsewhere, there’s another boat parade, the Festival of Lights Boat Parade, that takes place at the Hawaii Kai Town Center on Oahu which includes performances by the U.S. Band of the Pacific and professional hula dancers.
Celebrate at the Polynesian Cultural Center
The PCC on the north shore of Oahu hosts 13 days of festivities that make for an authentic Christmas experience and an interesting dive into Polynesian traditions. Feast on Authentic Hawaiian Food You Need to Try, go all-out for the scavenger hunt, hop on a Christmas canoe ride and peruse the aisles of the Hukilau Marketplace. They even have a snow machine so you can build a snowman on sand or start a snowball fight.
Where to Stay
This Four Seasons resort is one of the most festive places for you to stay during your Hawaiian vacation. The lobby has a massive Fraser fir that stretches up to the fifth floor — you can even help decorate in exchange for a $10 charity donation — and is home to a European-style Christmas market of local products. The resort has all the elegant amenities of a Four Seasons resort like amazing views, huge beds, pool and lounge areas, jacuzzi rooms, and more.
Come holiday season, the Sheraton Waikiki is known as the premier destination for sand sculptures. They import 58 tons of sand and construct huge castles with Santa surfing while sipping mai tais. The resort is located just steps from Waikiki Beach and within walking distance of shopping and entertainment.
Turtle Bay Resort
Turtle Bay Resort on the north shore of Oahu offers enough holiday festivities to potentially overwhelm you. Take a Christmas kayak tour, enroll in holiday-themed cooking and painting classes, meet a real-life mermaid, take a writing workshop to perfect your letters to Santa, and enjoy a ride on horses dressed up like reindeer. For your accommodation, pick between beach cottages and ocean villas or normal rooms, most of which come with an excellent view. For a slightly more rugged accommodation experience, check out the best places for Glamping in Hawaii.