It’s the Thing to Say
Back when I was young, Christmas was not my favorite holiday. Sure, it was great. I mean, who would pass up an opportunity for presents? But even so, I preferred the creative costumes that you see on Halloween or the delicious aroma of turkey, biscuits, and pumpkin pie on Thanksgiving. Perhaps I even preferred the crackling energy of New Year’s Eve, charged with excitement as people wait for the ball to drop. I did not hate Christmas, but I would have preferred two Halloweens.
However, this opinion would change with a simple family vacation.
You see, almost every summer since I was born, my family — my mom, my sister, me, and until about seven years ago, my dad— took a trip to the tropical wonderland of Hawai’i, where my mother had grown up before she moved to New Mexico. All of our family on her side— my grandparents, uncles, aunts, and cousins— still lived on the island of O’ahu, in a town called Kailua. Unfortunately, one year, perhaps I was about 6, we were unable to make it in the summer. Through careful planning, we were able to leave our little desert town in the middle of New Mexico for Christmas. This was wonderful news to me! Perhaps the joy of being in Hawai’i could make up for the mediocrity of Christmas.
It seemed like decades before were could finally leave. Halloween, then Thanksgiving, passed, but I did not even pay attention to them. Who cares about silly holidays like that, I thought! I’m going to Hawai’i! My attitude about the holidays had completely changed.
Finally, it came time to leave. The five-and-a-half-hour plane ride was no concern for me. The idea of going to Hawai’i in winter occupied most of the nooks and crannies in my mind. Besides, I had enough video games and drawing paper to last me a lifetime.
Ha ha! Finally, I awoke to the audible “Thump!” of the heavy wheels hitting the runway. We had arrived! But upon getting out of the plane, I was met by somewhat of a surprise. I looked out the window at the airport and noticed that there was no snow on the ground. I had known, of course, that it was warm in Hawai’i, but no snow? How ridiculous! We walked quickly to the baggageclaim area, all of us rushing to get to our grandma and grandpa’s house, where we would stay for the next few weeks. I cannot remember if getting baggage was difficult; I was not really paying attention. I could not get the thought out of my mind— no snow? It was astounding! We finished getting our luggage and dashed outside, where my Uncle El would be picking us up.
When we saw the silver van and heard “aloha,” we hurriedly threw our bags in the trunk, with my uncle’s help of course, and started the road from Honolulu to Kailua. The ride was almost an hour, but it did not matter because of all the beautiful sights, smells, and sounds around us. As always, there were the lush, green mountains, the waves beckoning us with every roll back into the ocean, and, of course, the almost ominous shadow of the Pali Lookout, the gigantic hill where King Kamehameha began his rule. I started thinking about those old times. What did they celebrate, I wondered deep in my mind?
My uncle insisted on rolling down the window to smell the fresh Hawai’i air. With the window down, I noticed that, not only was there no snow in the air, there was no chill either! The temperature had no noticeable difference in winter than summer! But, as I would soon learn, this was the least of differences between Hawai’i and New Mexico.
We got to my grandma and grandpa’s house without any spectacular events. There, we met my other uncle, Nate, and my aunts, Katie and Paula. It was quite an average family greeting, but even average things are wonderful in Hawai’i. We spent the next couple of days doing things we usually did on our vacation: going to the beach, getting shaved ice, going on walks, and playing badminton in our grandparents’ backyard— despite the big hill sloping down into the neighbor’s house, the spiky grass, and the beautiful garden of flowers, ferns, and bonsai trees surrounding us.
As Christmas approached, I began to notice how different this Christmas was. It was both culturally and personally different. As if the absence of snow was not odd enough, there were several other contrasts that made my head spin around. Many things were still the same; people still bought pine trees to decorate and hung
wreaths on their doors, but oh, the differences! For one thing, nobody had chimneys in Hawai’i. Why would they! They have no use for a fireplace because it is always warm. The locals just leave their back doors open so that Santa Claus can come in and leave his bounty of surprises for the children. And the songs! Songs played in commercials, on streets, and in stores, as they do all around the world. But instead of the requisite “Joy to the World” and Deck the Halls,” the most commonly played song was, of course, “Mele Kalikimaka,” a song about the holidays on the beautiful islands.
Even though it was not traditional Hawaiian music (the kind I really like with drums and an upbeat rhythm), I adored “Mele Kalikimaka.” It boiled down to a Christmas card my family had once received. It had an image of Old Saint Nick himself, dressed in flip-flops, swim shorts, and an “aloha shirt,” with a caption at the bottom stating “Mele Kalikimaka.” I do not know why, but that image always charmed me. It was not particularly funny, and I was not a huge fan of the art style, but to this day, I cannot picture it without laughing.
Come Christmas Day, things were almost the same as in New Mexico. My older sister, 8 at the time, and I still woke up early (though to be fair, that was the time difference more than anything else), and there were presents in the living room. The only difference was that we were surrounded by more family then we ever had been. It was nice to not have to look at a camera to send thanks to my relatives. And since that day, Christmas has been my favorite holiday.
Though Christmas is now my favorite holiday, I had never known exactly why. But now I know. My Christmas in Hawai’i was better than my previous Christmases here because it is not about what songs are sung or how Santa Claus steals into the house. It is about spirit. And as long as you are around people with the spirit of the holidays within them, you can always have a good time. So, as Christmas this year creeps ever closer, one line replays over and over again in my head: “Mele Kalikimaka, it’s the thing to say ...”