Guide to Christmas on Oahu: Celebrations, Parades, and Events

Shaka Santa and Mrs. Claus Honolulu
RobertCravens / Getty Images

Christmas is celebrated in a very unique way in Hawaii. While much of the country dreams of a snow-covered holiday complete with Santa and his reindeer, in Hawaii, Santa often arrives on a surfboard or outrigger canoe. And, unless you're at the summit of Mauna Kea, you won't see snow or any cold weather all month long on the islands.

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Honolulu City Lights

Christmas tree in Honolulu
 Kent Nishimura

Every year, Honolulu has a month-long Christmas lights display at Honolulu Hale (the city hall). On opening night, the mayor of Honolulu flips the switch on the lights and the city Christmas tree, followed by the annual Electric Light Parade of festooned vehicles and school bands on River Street that continues through downtown. Special events continue at Honolulu City Lights throughout December.

Opening night is December 7, 2019, and the lights stay on until Jan. 1, 2020. The parade begins at 6:30 p.m. and runs until about 6:30 p.m.

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Pearl Harbor Memorial Parade

Pearl Harbor Memorial Parade in action

Pearl Harbor Memorial Parade

The Christmas season in Hawaii is also a time to remember an important event that happened on December 7, 1941, the bombing of Pearl Harbor, which sparked the U.S. involvement in World War II.

Each year on December 7, lighted Cobra and Huey helicopters, floats, and bands parade down Kalakaua Avenue in Waikiki to honor the fallen, the survivors, and all veterans. The parade route goes from Fort DeRussy in Waikiki on Kalakaua Avenue to Kapiolani Park. Parade-goers will enjoy more than 2,000 people marching along with 10 bands.

The opening ceremony takes place at 4:30 p.m. at Fort DeRussy Park followed by the parade starting at 6 p.m. The closing ceremony takes place at the Waikiki Shell at about 7:30 p.m.

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The Nutcracker

The Nutcrakcer performed by Ballet Hawaii
Ballet Hawaii 

Each year, Ballet Hawaii puts on a December performance of Tchaikovsky's "The Nutcracker" with their own twist at the Blaisdell Concert Hall.

The ballet is set in the Kingdom of Hawaii in 1858 and features a variety of bright imagery from the islands' past. You'll see Hawaiian flowers and birds as well as Hawaii's Queen Lili’uokalani but still get to experience the full story of this classic Christmas tale.

The 2019 schedule is as follows:

December 12th at 6:00 p.m.

December 13th at 7:30 p.m.

December 14th at 7:30 p.m.

December 15th at 2 p.m.

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Jingle Rock Run

Jingle Rock Run
Noland Ugalde 

Make-a-Wish Hawaii sponsors a walk and run event through Honolulu City Lights in downtown Honolulu each year, but don't come in running clothes—this run isn't timed, so you can wear some holiday finery and bring pets and strollers if you'd like. 

On the day of the race, show up at the Hawaii State Capitol building at 3 p.m. on December 15, 2019 for early events. Children can take advantage of the Keiki Sprint and kid-friendly activities. There will be food trucks and more to do while you wait for the walk to start. 

All funds go to the Make-a-Wish Foundation.

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Festival of Lights Christmas Boat Parade

Festival of Light Boat Parade

 Festival of Light Boat Parade

For a totally Hawaii-inspired event (water, boats, and the hula), check out the Festival of Lights Boat Parade where boats decorated for the season with bright lights will cruise by the marina at Hawaii Kai Towne Center on Oahu. Festivities start at 3 p.m. on December 7 in 2019.

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Santa Comes to the Beach

Santa catching waves
Hugh Gentry/Courtesy Outrigger Hotels and Resorts

Santa knows that he can't land in Hawaii in his sleigh, so he goes to Plan B: He shows up at the beach in a canoe. Each year, Santa comes ashore at the Outrigger Waikiki Beach Resort in Honolulu in early December. He'll be happy to let you take his picture in the lobby of the resort after he arrives. In 2019 the Santa paddle is scheduled for December 7th at 9 a.m.

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Walk Through Chinatown

Chinatown Winter Walk

 WiseTim (CC BY 2.0)/Flickr

During the Chinatown Winter Walk, enjoy the holiday window displays of more than 40 merchants who decorate their shop windows during the month of December. Look for walking maps in the area covering a nine-block radius in Oahu's downtown Chinatown. 

If you want to delve more deeply into the culture and history of Chinatown, you can take a self-guided tour with a map showing historic points of interest.

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Shop the Christmas Market

A woman making sample food at Mele Kalikimaka Marketplace
 Tina Mahina

Head over to the Neal Blaisdell Expo Hall for the Mele Kalikimaka Marketplace where you can shop over 100 vendor booths for Hawaiian crafts, food, jewelry, clothing, and gift items.

This annual Christmas market will take place from December 14 to 15, 2019, and there will be a gingerbread workshop and a chance for kids to meet Santa and Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer both days of the event. It will be a fun time with live entertainment and lots of arts and crafts workshops. 

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Christmas in Polynesia

Christmas at the Polynesian Cultural Center

Polynesian Cultural Center

The Hukilau Marketplace at the Polynesian Cultural Center will be decorated for Christmas and have activities for the whole family from December 13th-23rd, 2019 every day (except Sunday) from 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.

Highlights of the annual Christmas event include Keiki Train Rides, a Marketplace Scavenger Hunt with prizes, a live Nativity, and Selfies with Santa. Every night kicks off with free music performances at 6 p.m, and the 10-day event ends with a snow day with keiki inner tubing on December 23rd from 3:30 - 8:30 p.m.

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Island Music and Hula

Window at the Waikiki Christmas Store

 Waikiki Christmas Store

Around sunset on select nights in December, you can holiday entertainment from 6 p.m. to 7 p.m. at the Waikiki Beach Walk Plaza from the 19th to the 25th—part of their annual celebration of Hawaiian culture for Christmas.

While you're at the shopping center, also stop into the Waikiki Christmas Store for a special ornament or decoration to take home as a souvenir.

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Holiday Pops Concert

Holiday Pops Concert
Hawaii Symphony Orchestra

Each holiday season, the Honolulu Symphony Orchestra presents a Holiday Pops concert at the Hawaii Theater, a historic 1922 theatre in downtown Honolulu. You'll enjoy holiday favorites and classics with local Hawaiian flair performed by the best orchestra in the state.

Tickets start at $80 for the dinner show with drinks, and in 2019 will be held on December 10th at 5:30 p.m.

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Christmas at Ala Moana

The Christmas Bar at Ala Moana Center

Ala Moana Center 

The huge shopping center, Ala Moana, offers weeks of holiday fun along with shopping all year long, and you can even get a limited edition Santa ornament with a purchase if you time things right.

In 2019, there will also be plenty of opportunities to get your family photo taken with Santa Claus at an interactive wonderland set up in the shopping center from November 9th to December 24th. Additionally, during the month, Ala Moana hosts a variety of special event days including pet photos with Santa nights, Santa Cares in partnership with Autism Speaks, a holiday selfie wall, and holiday hula shows from November 9th to December 24th at 1 p.m.

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Honolulu Symphony, Halekulani Masterworks: "Ode to Joy"

Hawai'i Symphony Orchestra performing Ode to Joy

 Hawai'i Symphony Orchestra

It's an Oahu tradition to celebrate the New Year by attending a performance of "Ode to Joy" by the Honolulu Symphony Orchestra and the Oahu Choral Society. In 2020, the event takes place at the Blaisdell Concert Hall on January 4th at 7:30 p.m. and January 5th at 4 p.m.