It’s the Thing to Say

Pasatiempo - - Essays - by Jose Byrne

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 ...”

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