Ringing in the holidays, Hawaiian style | Hawaiian Airlines

Hawaii Stories


Ringing in the holidays, Hawaiian style

Balmy and beautiful even during winter, Hawaii welcomes the holiday season with an array of joyful festivities

honolulu city lights
The holiday spirit is alive and well in Hawaii. Here are a dozen events statewide that the whole family will enjoy. Dates and times are subject to change, so be sure to confirm them before you go.


The Waikiki Holiday Parade takes you from one holiday to the next literally overnight.

Set each year on the Friday after Thanksgiving, it heralds the start of the Christmas season on Oahu while honoring survivors of the December 7, 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor and other World War II veterans.Founded by Jake Peppers, the former Hula Bowl marketing director, the Waikiki Holiday Parade invites bands from high schools and colleges nationwide. The nighttime parade makes its way down Kalakaua Avenue with the musicians, plus military units, hula dancers and decorated vehicles carrying Honolulu dignitaries.


Waikiki Holiday Parade is a post-Thanksgiving tradition on Oahu. (Photo credit: Gateway Music Festivals & Tours)

At Ward Village, the holiday happenings are everywhere you turn. Themed displays make for festive photo ops, while weekly holiday workshops include card making, cookie decorating and plant and jewelry classes. Beloved local artists play the holiday hits in the South Shore Market Courtyard every Aloha Friday, and on the weekends, strolling musicians and dancing elves brighten spirits. Join the Elf Scavenger Hunt for a chance to win a gift card or make your way to the one-day holiday celebration with complimentary treats and DIY ornaments. Plus, the Holiday Lounge at Ward Centre hosts gift wrapping, holiday movies and activities for kids.


Photo credit: Hugh Gentry

On the Islands, there’s no need for Rudolph and his reindeer friends — because Santa arrives by outrigger canoe. Bring your camera to the beach fronting the Outrigger Waikiki Beach Resort at 9 a.m. on the second Saturday of December to snap “only-in-Hawaii” photos to show your friends and family. You can also find Jolly Old St. Nick at the nearby Royal Hawaiian Center, where he'll pose for photos during holiday performances and offerings of sweet snacks from the Honolulu Cookie Company. Neighboring Waikiki Beach Walk also hosts seven nights of holiday mele (songs) featuring performances by local hula halau and entertainers.

It’ll be easy to find the opening-night activities for Honolulu City Lights is a spirited, much anticipated event, with the Electric Light Parade illuminating the streets with floats, marching bands and decorated city vehicles from Aala Park to Honolulu Hale. (Be sure to look for the Hawaiian Airlines float.) The Honolulu mayor flips on the lights adorning a towering Christmas tree, followed by live music at Sky Gate and free photos with Santa. Throughout December, more Honolulu City Lights take place, including a free milk and cookies night, food trucks, a wreath contest and a special tree exhibit.


Hawaiian Airlines proudly unveils a float in the Electric Light Parade every year. (Photo credit: Hawaiian Airlines)

Walk through dazzling light displays at the annual Show Aloha Land at Aloha Stadium in Halawa, open all December long. Kids will love the bouncing town featuring 20 inflatables, a wacky bubble zone, zip lines and the chance to go tobogganing on 3,600 square feet of "snow." Instagram opportunities abound with human-sized snow globes and Santa's photo studio. Plus, jump aboard an illuminated train or drive through the light tunnel on your own. There are food options for the whole family, but adults will revel in the well-priced cocktails at Cupid's Bar.

Come January, usher in the new year at the Ohana Festival in Moiliili. Activities at the Japanese Cultural Center of Hawaii include demonstrations of bonsai, origami, karate, kendo, the tea ceremony and kumihimo (Japanese braiding). There will be a craft fair, bake sale and admission to the Okage Sama De historical gallery. At nearby Moiliili Neighborhood Park (1115 Isenberg Street), the celebration continues with keiki games and inflatables/bouncers, mochitsuki (mochi-pounding) demonstrations and food booths selling goodies such as sushi, Waffle Dogs and okonomiyaki, Japanese pancakes containing a variety of savory ingredients). Taiko and Japanese and Okinawan dance groups will perform at both locations.


Learn about mochitsuki (mochi-pounding) at the New Year's Ohana Festival in Moiliili. (Photo Credit: Brian Y. Sato/Japanese Cultural Center of Hawaii)


Witness the nation’s largest banyan tree decked out in glory with the Lahaina Banyan Tree Lighting taking place on the first Saturday of December, kicking off days of celebrations in the historic neighborhood. Take photos with a snowman and the Clauses, or let the kids frolic in a unique "snow" zone in the tropics.

The Shops at Wailea is the place to be in December when Santa and his elves parade from Kalama Park, handing out cookies and collecting canned good donations to benefit Maui Food Bank. Stay for the twice-weekly Holiday Polynesian Show. Nearby Grand Wailea hosts a wealth of festive events, from a holiday marketplace and seasonal holiday meals to Hanukkah candle lighting and Christmas Day mass. Santa even arrives by outrigger canoe on the morning of Dec. 24, just before he makes a midday appearance at the Fairmont Kea Lani in South Maui.

Come Christmas weekend, the Hyatt Regency Maui Resort and Spa transforms into the Halona Kai Holiday Village with festive music, buffets and holiday-themed activities.


Normally laid-back Lihue leaps to life on the first Friday of December, when the Lights on Rice Parade delights spectators lined up along Rice Street, the town’s main artery. The parade ends at the Historic County Building (4396 Rice Street), where there will be caroling, entertainment, a craft fair, food booths, photos with Santa and the Festival of Lights, a whimsical exhibit of ornaments, figures and decorated trees primarily made from discards; for example, bottle caps, egg cartons, Styrofoam cups, Spam cans and plastic water bottles. The festival stays open nightly, Fridays through Sundays, in December.

Over on the west side, the town of Waimea plans a memorable celebration of its own. The Waimea Lighted Christmas Parade begins at sunset at Hofgaard Park. It's a joyous grassroots event; floats created by families are just as fun and elaborate as the ones sponsored by businesses. Arrive early to check out the gift items, ornaments and fresh wreaths for sale. Food booths will be selling yummy local favorites that this community is known for: smoked meat, hulihuli chicken roasted on a rotisserie (huli means “turn”) and the flying saucer, a bun filled with a sloppy joe-and-cheese mixture that you’ll find only on Kauai. The after-parade party at Hofgaard Park features dance music until midnight.


The famous Waimea Christmas Twilight Parade lights up the streets with as many as 50 illuminated trucks. (Photo credit: Waimea Parade)

Hawaii Island

Every year, the Waimea Christmas Twilight Parade brings the whole community together to celebrate a Kold Kountry Christmas (that theme isn’t misspelled — it’s a play on words: Waimea is cold during the holiday season). This parade is famous for its brigade of lighted trucks; there are often as many or more trucks as there are total units. Residents appreciate the truckers for hauling all the “regular goods” to rural Waimea as well as the equipment and materials needed for ranching, logging and farming. Before the parade, shop for gifts at Christmas fairs at Waimea Center and Parker Ranch Center. After the parade, Santa will be greeting and taking photos with kids at Parker Ranch Center’s Fireside Food Court.

You’re also invited to the Winter Stargazing Party from at the Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope’s Waimea headquarters where astronomers and members of the West Hawaii Astronomy Club host an open house with refreshments and “Ask An Astronomer” talks. All events raise awareness for the Big Island Giving Tree’s efforts to brighten the lives of seniors, the homeless and families in need during the holidays.

The Kailua-Kona Community Christmas Parade makes its way through the seaside town of Kailua-Kona before nightfall on the second Saturday of December, with some 80 entries (2,200 participants) providing their interpretations of the theme “Na Mele O Kalikimaka: Songs of Christmas.” Highlights include bands, of course, as well as hip-hop dancers, a Toys for Tots train, pets wearing Santa caps and tinsel garlands, and a float featuring Santa, Mrs. Claus, elves and Rudolph and his reindeer friends. While you’re at the parade, in the giving spirit of Christmas, bring a few canned goods for the Menehune Holiday Food Drive. Donations can be dropped off at the eight announcers’ stations along the route or given to marchers accompanying the entry for the drive’s beneficiary, the Food Basket, a nonprofit organization that feeds the hungry on Hawaii island. Contributions will also be accepted at supermarkets from Captain Cook to Waimea on the day of the parade.

Mochi pounding has been a New Year’s tradition at Akiko’s Buddhist Bed and Breakfast for 18 years.

From just a few dozen people, mostly neighbors, participation has grown to about 700 people, both visitors and kamaaina (Hawaii residents). From just a few dozen people, mostly neighbors, participation has grown to about 700 people, both visitors and kamaaina (Hawaii residents). The mochitsuki usually happens just before the new year, with everyone, young and old, taking turns pounding glutinous rice into the sweet, round cakes that, according to Japanese custom, are eaten for good luck. Adding to the festivities will be craft sales, fortune telling, massage, I Ching readings, storytelling, taiko drumming, Hawaiian music and hearty food for sale.

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