How to Spend a Magical Christmas in Hawaii: 15 Fun Facts

Wondering about spending Christmas in Hawaii? You’re in the right place! In this post, I will tell you what is Christmas like in Hawaii from a local perspective.

When you think of Hawaii, beautiful beaches, fantastic snorkeling, water sports, and lush jungle hikes pop into your mind.

It might surprise you that many people return to the islands yearly to celebrate the holiday.

Despite the lack of snow and cold, the festive spirit is alive and well on the islands, and there’s plenty to do to celebrate Christmas. Tropical style, of course!

 I’ve lived in Maui for the last five years and have loved each holiday season.

Christmas displays in Honolulu at night.
Christmas displays in Honolulu at night

Table of Contents

Is Hawaii a good place to visit for Christmas?

If you dream of a green Christmas, having a Hawaii Christmas vacation is a magical way to celebrate the holidays. 

While everyone at home is getting pale and watching movies, you can snorkel with vibrant fish, hike in the morning mountains, be sunburnt on Christmas Day, and enjoy a tropical holiday!

Check out this ultimate guide for everything you need to know about the holiday season in Hawaii. 

πŸ‘‰πŸ½ What season is it in Hawaii in December?

Considering the winter months, you’ll find Hawaii in December a temperate and warm place. Temperatures are typically in the low 80s, and the evenings can dip into the upper 60s.

You’re also more likely to experience rain in December! This means you’ll experience the islands at their most lush and gorgeous. You should plan some of your snorkeling or hiking excursions around the weather. 

Don’t worryβ€” the ocean is still warm even in winter!

πŸ‘‰πŸ½ How crowded is Hawaii at Christmas?

Christmas in Hawaii is one of the most crowded periods on the islands. It’s not the busiest time, but you will see about 20% more arrivals between Christmas week and New Year’s.

This means you’ll want to start planning your Christmas vacation ASAP! Occupancy is high, and you’ll want to make reservations for fun activities well in advance.  

πŸ‘‰πŸ½ What part of Hawaii is best for Christmas?

You can’t go wrong with any of the islands in Hawaii, as they’re all beautiful and have so much to offer! However, the overall pick for Christmas is Wat. It’s a gorgeous place that’s accessible to people of all ages. 

Enjoy stunning beaches and the small beach town vibes for an unforgettable Christmas. Plus, there are plenty of fun things to do in Hawaii to celebrate the holidaysβ€” Hawaiian style!

πŸ‘‰πŸ½ Is Hawaii expensive at Christmas?

The expense is one of the only downfalls for coming to Hawaii at Christmas time. Since it’s one of the busiest times of the year, you’ll see higher rates for everything. 

Accommodations, rental cars, and even some activities will increase their rates for the week between Christmas and New Year’s.

Hawaii’s an expensive place to visit no matter what time of year you go, and the magic of the holidays makes it worthwhile. Just budget more for your stay, and you’ll be good to go!

Christmas tree outside Honolulu City Hall - a must-see during Christmas in Hawaii.
Honolulu City Hall

Things to Know About Christmas in Hawaii

You might be wondering what you need to know about Christmas in Hawaii. Well, have no fear; the most important information is below. 

πŸŽ„ What is a Hawaiian Christmas called?

Before the arrival of Christian missionaries to Hawaii in the 1800s, Hawaiians celebrated a traditional Hawaiian festival called Makahiki. There will be more on that later!

The first recorded Christmas in Hawaii was in 1786, and King Kamehameha IV declared it an official holiday in 1862.

A Hawaiian Christmas is very similar to a traditional American Christmas with a tropical twist. 

You’ll hear people greet each other with “Mele Kalikimaka,” which translates to Merry Christmas!

πŸŽ„ Why is Christmas celebrated in Hawaii?

Christmas was first introduced to Hawaii by Protestant missionaries. 

In 1819, Queen Ka’ahumanu publicly overthrew kapu, the strict ancient Hawaiian code of conduct.

Around the same time, Protestant missionaries from New England were allowed to enter Hawaii. It’s believed that they introduced Christmas to the islands.

It coincided with Makahiki, a period of 4 months when no wars were fought and gifts were given. Talk about a similar holiday! 

 Today, lots of mainland US traditions have been adopted. 

πŸŽ„ Is Christmas big in Hawaii?

Christmas in Hawaii is a significant celebration, just like on the mainland! You’ll find Christmas trees, lights, Santa Claus decorations and more.

Of course, some things are celebrated differentlyβ€” you probably don’t see people surfing with Santa Claus hats at home! 

Still, it’s a time for families to come together, shower each other in love, and eat lots of delicious food. 

Aerial view of Napali Coast in Hawaii.
Napali Coast

πŸŽ„ Hawaiian Christmas Greetings

Mele Kalikimaka is how you say Merry Christmas in Hawaii! You’ve probably heard the song by Bing Crosby and The Andrews Sisters, and if you haven’t, you should look it up.

The phrase “mele kalikimaka” is technically a loan phrase from English. The Hawaiian language has a different phonetic system than English.

Fun fact! It’s considered a transliteration, not a translation. 

πŸŽ„ Hawaiian Christmas Decorations

One of the most common Hawaiian Christmas decorations you’ll see is poinsettias! 

I found that surprising when I first moved here, but I’ve since learned that poinsettia plants are staples in Kona coffee farms! The warm weather of Hawaii means they can grow outside all year long.

You’ll also find wreaths, leis, and floral arrangements from the gorgeous natural flora on the islands. 

If you collect Christmas tree ornaments, you’ll find plenty of fun and artistic options while on the islands!

Some of my favorites include a hand-painted whale and an angel made of banana leaves and corn husks.

πŸŽ„ Hawaiian Christmas Tree

While in Hawaii, you’ll come across Hawaiian Christmas treesβ€” palm trees with lights and ornaments! They’re a cute ode to both the holiday and the tropical climate.

You might also be surprised to see that there are lots of live pines on the islands. Some are grown in Hawaii, but most are shipped in refrigerated containers crossing the Pacific Ocean.

Norfolk Island Pines are the most common type, and it’s always exciting to see the big shipping containers sitting outside of Costco and Home Depot!

πŸŽ„ Hawaiian Santa Claus

Santa Claus goes by a different name in Hawaiiβ€” Kanakaaloka. He’s bearded and jolly, with his signature “ho ho ho,” but he ditches some of his heavier layers in favor of Aloha shirts or a bare chest. 

You’ll see him arrive for Christmas in a bright red outrigger canoe or surfboard! He often throws up a shaka- the Hawaiian gesture meaning “hang loose.”

Don’t worry, you’ll be able to recognize himβ€” he hasn’t lost his iconic white beard. 

View of Oahu Beach with blue water surrounded by white sand.
Honolulu

πŸŽ„ What food do Hawaiians eat on Christmas?

Christmas dinner in Hawaii has the most delicious dishes and sides. If there’s one thing we could all learn from Hawaiians, it’s how to throw a party!

It’s not a meal without rice! The main dish? A turkey or kalua pig cooked in an underground oven is called an imu. 

For dessert, mochi and haupia (coconut pudding) are bound to appear. 

Hawaiian Christmas Traditions

Hawaiian Christmas traditions are similar to the practices you’re used to on the mainland. However, there are bound to be a few twists! 

The melding of traditional Christmas traditions and the vibrant Hawaiian culture results in delicious food, fantastic time with family and friends, and a sprinkling of adventure. It’s an ideal Christmas if you ask me!

🎊 Christmas Luau

There’s no holiday without a feast, and Christmas is no exception. Families will gather in the backyard or at the beach for a Hawaiian Christmas partyβ€” a traditional luau. 

Kalua pig is a staple, with the meat cooked in an imuβ€” an underground oven. The meat will be buried with hot rocks and banana leaves and then slowly cooked for a few hours. 

The result is a melt-in-the-mouth meat just bursting with flavor. If you have the chance, you definitely need to try it out. 

Going to a professional Luau is an excellent option to celebrate uniquely. Check out our recommendation later in this article. 

🎊 Opening of Presents

Just like on the mainland, families in Hawaii give and open presents. Some families will open them on Christmas Eve, but opening them on Christmas morning is much more common. 

It’s one of the many things that make Christmas in Hawaii feel similar to what you’re used to at home. 

🎊 Christmas Surfing

No matter the day of the year, people constantly surf in Hawaii. Christmas Day is no exception! Many people will wear Santa hats or Christmas colors while on the water.

Getting out into the ocean on Christmas day is a must if you’re in Hawaiiβ€” what better way to celebrate the holiday? 

If you’re an experienced surfer, you’ll be pleased to hear that the northern coastlines typically get big swells during December.

If you haven’t been out on the water much, you’ll want to stick to the smaller surf the southern coastlines see. 

🎊 Makahiki

The traditional holiday of Makahiki spans four months, approximately from October/November through February/March. 

During this time, feasts and rest days abounded. The Hawaiian’s gave thanks to the god Lono-ika-makahiki. Labor was prohibited, ceremonial offerings were given, sports were played, and there were plenty of feasts.

As you can see, Makahiki has some sentiments similar to Christmasβ€” even if the religious roots differ. 

Today, the Aloha Festivals (primarily on Oahu) celebrate this ancient tradition. This year’s festivals take place in September.  The theme for 2023 is Piliʻāina – which means to have a kinship with the land. 

Large waterfalls in Maui surrounded by huge rocks.
Maui

🎊 Christmas Dinner

Christmas dinner in Hawaii combines traditional mainland foods and delicious (or ono, as they say in Hawaii) Hawaiian fare. 

You might enjoy a turkey or kalua pig, poke bowls, rice, and delicious fresh fruit alongside the potatoes and gravy.

Fun Christmas Events in Hawaii

Even though plenty of Christmas traditions are similar to the mainland, you might wonder what fun Christmas events are in Hawaii. Well, wonder no more! The answers await below.

⭐️ Christmas Parades 

There are so many Christmas parades in Hawaii during the holiday season! Watch decorated trees and Christmas floats while listening to Christmas carols. There’s a different parade on each island.

Oahu has the most options and some of the most elaborate Christmas parades. Honolulu’s City Lights parade sees festive floats, Christmas tunes, brilliant lights, and delicious food! 

The Lights on Rice Parade begins with the Royal Palm tree lighting on Kauai. With nearly 2,000 performers, loads of floats, and more, it will surely delight. It’s held on the first Friday of December. 

Big Island, see the Waimea Christmas Twilight Parade, where you’ll see carolers, local storytellers, and the lighting of a Norfolk tree.

The Festival of Lights on Maui took place in Lahaina. Tragically, the West Maui fires devastated this historic town in August of this year. 

The annual lighting of the Banyan Tre and the festive celebration won’t happen this year. Hopefully, as the town rebuilds, this festive tradition can continue. 

⭐️ Santa’s Arrival

One of Hawaii’s most unique holiday traditions, Santa’s Arrival in Waikiki is a sight you don’t want to miss.

Since the Hawaiian islands are in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, Santa chooses not to spread joy and cheer via his trusty sleigh. Instead, he rolls up in an outrigger canoe pulled by dolphins!

Hawaiian Santa statue in Hawaii.
Hawaiian Santa

⭐️ Hawaiian Christmas Carols

Hawaii Christmas music is charming. Listen to the familiar carols with ukulele, sweet vocal harmonies, and the beauty of the Hawaiian language all weaved in.

Check out “Silent Night” by Amy Hanaialii Gilliom, “My Hawaiian Christmas” by the Honolulu Boys Choir, and “Medley: Winter Wonderland/Hawaiian Santa” by The Makaha Sons.

⭐️ Christmas Hula Performances

Hula is an integral part of Hawaiian culture and a beautiful dance for all to enjoy. If you’re in Hawaii for the holidays, find a Christmas Hula Performance! 

I recommend visiting a Luauβ€” you can enjoy a fantastic feast, drinks, and top-tier entertainment. 

πŸ‘πŸΌ Waikiki Luau Buffet with Rock-a-Hula ticket

4.5 ⭐️ 950 Reviews

This Waikiki Luau Buffet with Rock-a-Hula ticket is the best option for a Christmas hula performance across the islands. Sip on tropical Mai Tai, and enjoy a buffet dinner with a roasted whole pig.

Best of all, enjoy live music and fantastic hula performances. You can even participate in a hula lesson!

It’s located in the heart of Waikiki, so if you’re staying in downtown Honolulu, it’ll be within walking distance of your hotel. 

The Rock-a-Hula ticket ensures you get the largest cast show, Tahitian dance, fire knife dancing, and see featured local artists. 

Best LUAU on Oahu! We come every year! Greatest show! 

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ Larry_M, Aug 2023
View of Waikiki Beach and Diamond Hotel under a blue sky.
Waikiki

The Best Hawaiian Gifts and Souvenirs to Gift with Christmas

What are the best Hawaiian gifts and souvenirs to come back home with? Look no further; I’ve got the insider scoop down below!

🎁 Hawaiian Gift Baskets

Hawaiian gift baskets are the perfect way to share a selection of the best treats with any family member or friend. You can buy premade baskets, or you can assemble your own!

A Hawaiian gift basket typically includes an aloha mug, macadamia nuts, Hawaiian chocolates, Kona coffee, and other fun little treats. Some even come presented in beautiful wood bowls.

Christmas train display in Hawaii at night.

🎁 Hawaiian Christmas Ornaments

Who doesn’t love an ornament that reminds them of a particular time? Hawaiian ornaments are a fantastic gift. Not only are they small enough to fit in a carry-on, but there are also several different designs.

No matter your taste, you’ll find an ornament you love.

🎁 Hawaiian Dresses and Shirts

Hawaiian dresses and shirts are popular souvenirs and gifts year-round. However, the Christmas version of this brightly patterned attire is even more fun! 

Called “aloha shirts” in Hawaii, you’ll find some with Santa Claus snorkeling or surfing, Christmas trees, and even snowmen on the beach.

🎁 Local Hawaiian Foods

Hawaii truly has some of the most delicious food around. What better way to spread Christmas cheer than through indulgence in something truly delicious? 

Lilikoi butter, macadamia nut chocolates, Kona espresso beans, and freshly made mochi are all fantastic options that are sure to please. 

🎁 Hawaiian Handcrafted Souvenirs

For an exceptional gift, consider buying a handcrafted souvenir. Koa wood bowls and cutting boards are beautiful and functional. 

Wood sculptures of whales, dolphins, and sea turtles are incredible for home decΓ³r.

Handcrafted jewelry featuring sea shells or Tahitian pearls is another Hawaiian gift option. 

🎁 Hawaiian Artworks

Hawaii is home to many artists. Why not support local and buy a print from an artist? 

Whether you like old Hawaiian style or pieces featuring local flora and fauna, there are many beautiful pieces to take home with you. 

Amazing Honokohau Falls from a distance surrounded by mountains.
Honokohau Falls in Maui

Where to Stay in Hawaii for Christmas

You might wonder if a specific island is best to visit for Christmas. The short answer is no! Each island has something unique and special to offer. 

The long answer is that it depends on what you’re looking for. 

πŸ—Ί Oahu

Oahu is perfect for people who love the hustle and bustle of the city.

There are a lot of things to do in Oahu to look forward to, like enjoying the spectacular Honolulu City Lights festival, the arrival of Santa Claus in an outrigger canoe, and a plethora of fantastic eateries. 

Plus, if you’re interested in enjoying shows and shopping, Oahu is the island for you! A Honolulu or Waikiki Christmas will be one for the books. 

πŸ› Recommended Stay: Halepuna Waikiki by Halekulani

A spacious hotel in Hawaii with a cozy bed and a balcony.
Halepuna Waikiki by Halekulani – Photo Β© Expedia

Located in downtown Honolulu, The Halepuna Waikiki by Halekulani is a luxury boutique hotel only 2 minutes from the iconic Waikiki beach. 

An internationally acclaimed interior design firm designed the property, so you’ll find it comfortable, beautiful, and relaxing. It’s the perfect place to spend a Christmas vacation!

The rooms are spacious and comfortable, and an “Urban Oasis” is on the 8th floor. Soak in panoramic views of Waikiki Beach with a cocktail, swim in the infinity lap pool, or soak in the hot tub.

There’s also an on-site fitness studio. Downstairs, enjoy the treats baked at Halekulani Bakery & Restaurant. 

The location was perfect, the staff was so friendly and always available.

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ NAT, august 2023

πŸ—Ί Maui

Considered one of the most family-friendly islands, Maui has a good mix of things to do out on the town, fantastic beaches, amazing waterfalls, and a slower pace of life than Honolulu. 

Christmas in Maui is truly magical. 

Come ready to get a tan and head back home a couple of shades darker than you arrived! 

πŸ› Recommended Stay: Maui Sunset

A rustic style hotel in Hawaii with cozy bed with floral design sheets.
Maui Sunset – Photo Β© Expedia

The best place to stay in Maui is Maui Sunset. This oceanfront condo complex is situated right on Waipuilani Park. 

Located in North Kihei, it’s centrally located, making it a perfect home base for exploring the island. 

Plus, each condo complex comes with a full kitchen and balcony. You’ll feel right at home here and can take advantage of the 6 on-property tennis courts, the outdoor pool, and the on-site gym. 

Guests come back to Maui sunset year after year for a reason!

Great pool, great sunset access. Easy to get to all the beaches..

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ DAN, MARCH 2023

πŸ—Ί Big Island

Big Island is a fantastic place for anyone interested in adventure. Check out live volcanoes and flowing lava, snorkel or kayak on one of its best beaches, and hike through the jungle to see fantastic waterfalls.

You can also find synchronized Christmas light shows in Hilo and a lighted boat parade in downtown Kona at Christmas time. 

πŸ› Recommended Stay: Four Seasons Resort Hualalai

A hotel in Hawaii with cozy bed, tables and chairs and a balcony.
Four Seasons Resort Hualalai – Photo Β© Expedia

The Four Seasons Resort Hualalai is located on the Kona-Kohala coast of the Big Island. This hotel in Big Island has modern rooms with either garden or ocean views.

What truly makes a stay at the Four Seasons spectacular is the 5-star service and the resort grounds. An 18-hole golf course on site, a saltwater pool, spa, fitness facilities, and white sand beaches.

You won’t even have to hunt down a delicious restaurant because there are 3 on the property! 

Guest rooms, amenities and their restaurant; everything’s great!

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ yasuhiro, august 2023

πŸ—Ί Kauai

Kauai is ideal for anyone wanting a quiet Christmas or an adventurous holiday. The Garden Isle is lush and beautiful (arguably the most beautiful of all the islands).

 This island has a plethora of incredible vistas, hikes, and a quiet atmosphere to enjoy.

πŸ› Recommended Stay: The Kauai Inn

A hotel in Hawaii with bed, tables and chairs.
Kauai Inn – Photo Β© Expedia

For the quintessential Kauai experience, one of the best accommodations in Kauai is at The Kauai Inn. Each room is airy and tropical in this plantation-style building.

Don’t worryβ€” air conditioning is also provided. There’s a cute outdoor barbecue area to enjoy, and the landscaped property is idyllic. 

Head out to the pavilion area and take advantage of the complimentary coffee, tea, and juice served every day.

Best of all, this Inn is conveniently located close to Lihue.

Breakfast was good, the location and view of the mountains was amazing, staff were friendly and helpful, and the room was spacious and clean.

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ VIRGINIA, JULY 2023

Frequently Asked Questions

Is it cold in Hawaii during Christmas?Β 

During Christmas, Hawaii sees temperatures in the low 80s during the day and the upper 60s at night.Β 

Does it snow in Hawaii at Christmas?

Sometimes, it does snow in Hawaii between December and Februaryβ€” on the top of the volcanoes of Haleakala, Mauna Kea, and Mauna Loa!Β 

You won’t see any snow in the coastal regions.

A scenic view in Hawaii on a sunset.

What are the typical Christmas decorations in Hawaii?

Poinsettias and palm trees strung with Christmas lights are typical in Hawaii during the holiday season! You’re also likely to see houses with lights, blow-up reindeer, and snowmen, just like you would on the mainland.Β 

Are there real Christmas trees in Hawaii?

The only real Christmas trees grown in Hawaii are Cook Island Pines and Leyland cypress. However, fresh-cut Christmas trees are shipped from Oregon and Washington annually to adorn homes all over the islands.Β 

View of a beach in Hawaii under a purple sky.

Final Thoughts: Christmas in Hawaii

Trade in your skies for a surfboard or snorkel mask, and the winter coats for a layer of sunscreen! Christmas in Hawaii is a fantastic experience. 

Not only is the blend of Hawaiian culture and mainland traditions sure to delight, but you might even find that you love having a tan in December. 

Try out Kalua Pig for Christmas dinner, listen to Christmas carols with the ukulele, surf with Santa, and more in the fabulous islands in the middle of the Pacific.Β 

Before you go…