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.
Every year, Honolulu has a month-long Christmas lights display at Honolulu Hale (the city hall). Opening night is December 7, 2019, and the lights stay on until Jan. 1, 2020.
Each year on opening night, the mayor of Honolulu flips the switch on the lights and the city Christmas tree, followed by the annual parade of festooned vehicles and school bands on River Street that continues through downtown. Special events continue at Honolulu City Lights throughout December.
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.
Each year, Ballet Hawaii puts on a December performance of Tchaikovsky's "The Nutcracker" but with their own twist to the presentation.
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.
Performances are at Blaisdell Concert Hall. Performance dates for 2019 are to be announced but typically run through the week of Christmas.
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. 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. The 2019 date has yet to be announced but check back in October or visit the website for more information.
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.
The event will also feature live entertainment: The U.S. Air Force Band of the Pacific will perform followed by an authentic hula dance recital. Festivities start at sunset, but the 2019 date is to be announced. Be sure to check out the website and check back in November for more information as it's announced.
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.
During the Chinatown Winter Walk, enjoy the holiday window displays of more than 40 merchants who decorate their shop windows during 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.
Shop the Christmas Market
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.
Christmas in Polynesia
The Polynesian Cultural Center will be decorated for Christmas and have activities for the whole family throughout the month of December in 2019—though specific dates have not yet been announced.
Highlights of the annual Christmas in Polynesia event include a special Christmas canoe ride, holiday train rides, and a scavenger hunt as well as a variety of tasty Polynesian snacks and drinks to sample while you explore the winter wonderland.
Island Music and Hula
Around sunset on select nights in December, you can watch a one-hour hula show at the Waikiki Beach Walk—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.
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 for the one-day-only concert typically go on sale in September and the performance date is usually scheduled for mid-December—though dates have not been announced for the 2019 show.
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 blanket with a purchase if you time things right.
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. Additionally, during the month, Ala Moana hosts a variety of special event days including a PJ Day, an Ugly Sweater Day, a Grandparents' Day, and, on select Sundays, a free holiday hula show.
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. The event takes place at the Blaisdell Concert Hall on New Year's Eve and again on New Year's Day.