Our Favorites: Hawaiian Christmas Tunes
A Hawaiian Christmas doesn’t have the typical things you’d hear in holiday songs like sleigh rides, snowmen, hot apple cider, and roaring fires. Some people can’t even imagine having a Christmas without snow, but here in the islands we have our own traditions to ring in the holidays. We have palm trees decorated with Christmas lights, community celebrations, picnics on the beach, and even a casual Santa who likes to surf.
There have been many songs written about how people in Hawaii celebrate Christmas, and we’d like to share some of our favorites with you. If you’re tired of the same old Christmas songs or looking for a little escape from the cold winter weather, our top picks will add some aloha spirit to any Christmas playlist.
1) Mele Kalikimaka by Bing Crosby & The Andrew Sisters
“Mele Kalikimaka” is a perennial favorite in the islands. It was written by Robert Alex Anderson in 1949, but made popular around the world by Bing Crosby and The Andrew Sisters in 1950. “Mele Kalikimaka” is “Hawaii’s way of saying Merry Christmas to you” as The Andrew Sisters sing, and is commonly used as our holiday greeting. This song is used in every Christmas parade, school celebration, and can be heard at shopping malls around the islands during the holiday season. “Mele Kalikimaka” gives everyone’s holiday that special aloha spirit that no other song can.
2) Numbah One Day of Christmas
The ever-popular Hawaiian version of the classic carol, “The Twelve Days of Christmas,” has been a mainstay of island celebrations for the last 50 years. It was written by Eaton “Bob” Magoon, Ed Kennedy, and Gordon Phelps in 1959. Magoon claims that he thought up the lyrics while thinking of things from his childhood trips to Hawaii Island. This song is immensely popular in Hawaii due to the use of Pidgin English in the song, a local dialect spoken by residents. In our version, a tutu (grandmother) gives us “4 flower leis,” “6 hula lessons,” and “8 ukeleles,” among other things unique to the islands.
3) O Holy Night by Willie K
Willie K is another famous local singer who gained notoriety while opening for groups like Cecilio and Kapono in California. While he has an eclectic taste in music, he is primarily dedicated to writing traditional Hawaiian music. His take on this conventional Christmas carol is hauntingly beautiful with some of the verses sung in Hawaiian. Willie K’s version of “O Holy Night” is the most requested Christmas song according to disc jockeys in Hawaii. This version also features legendary country music star Willie Nelson on guitar.
4) Santa’s Hula by Hilo Hattie
“Santa’s Hula” is a fun Christmas classic depicting a “Hawaiian Santa” who wears a coconut hat and a lei and dances hula after delivering presents. Such depictions of St. Nick are common in the islands as it is a local belief that he visits children here in an Outrigger canoe pulled by dolphins. The song was made popular by Hilo Hattie, a Native Hawaiian entertainer known for her comedy and hula dancing in the 1930s and 40s. Although this song is a little old-fashioned, Hilo Hattie is one of the most famous people to come out of the Aloha State and her legacy still lives on.
5) Christmas Cheer by Cecilio & Kapono
“Christmas Cheer” is a sentimental number from Cecilio & Kapono, arguably the most popular music group from Hawaii. They are known for their smooth classic harmonies and for putting a contemporary spin on classic Hawaiian music. “Christmas Cheer” is the ultimate feel-good Christmas song that mentions all of the classic imagery, like children bouncing on Santa’s knee. C&K’s music is uplifting and cozy, and since their vibe goes along with the season, this song is a perfect addition to any Christmas playlist.
6) My Hawaiian Christmas
“My Hawaiian Christmas” was recorded by the Honolulu Boy Choir, a local institution known for its musical excellence around the world. This song is one of our favorite holiday songs because it sums up some of the Christmas traditions that are unique to the islands. Locals love the familiar images in this song, like the one of Santa in a flower lei and eating turkey and rice for our Christmas meal.
7) Christmas in the Sand by Colbie Caillat
Although not specifically about Hawaii, “Christmas in the Sand” is catchy pop song about having fun in the sun during Christmas. Colbie Caillat may be from Southern California, but she shares our love of a tropical Christmas. Instead of a “white Christmas” that is normally depicted in the classic carols, Caillat’s version features a Santa who falls off his surfboard and laughs. Like in Caillat’s song, both locals and visitors to Hawaii make the most of the warm weather and head out to the beach during the holiday season.
8) Silent Night by The Makaha Sons
The Makaha Sons are considered to be one of the most popular and prolific groups dedicated to sharing traditional Hawaiian music throughout the world. They are known for their smooth harmonies with rich vocals blended with guitars and an acoustic bass. Their version of “Silent Night” mixes this a classic Christmas carol with the authentic Hawaiian music sound. A highlight of this particular song is the guest artists who each sing a verse in different language alongside The Makaha Sons: Robi Kahakalau sings in the original German; Rocky Brown sings in Filipino; and Darlene Ahuna sings in Hawaiian. Due to the song’s Hawaiian spin on a popular Christmas carol, this song has been a mainstay of Christmas celebrations in Hawaii.
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