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The Hawaiian islands are known for their idyllic landscapes, laidback culture, and unique local traditions. As Christmas approaches, you may be wondering: how do you say ‘Merry Christmas’ in the Hawaiian language?

If you’re short on time, here’s a quick answer to your question: The Hawaiian phrase for Merry Christmas is Mele Kalikimaka!

In this comprehensive guide, we’ll cover everything you need to know about Christmas traditions and greetings in Hawaii, including:

1) A brief history of Christmas in Hawaii

2) Common ways to say Merry Christmas in Hawaiian

3) Other Hawaii-inspired Christmas phrases and traditions

4) How Mele Kalikimaka became Hawaii’s Christmas anthem

A Brief History of Christmas in Hawaii

Origins of Christmas in the Islands

The celebration of Christmas in Hawaii has an interesting history. The islands were originally settled by Polynesian voyagers likely around 300-500 AD. Early Hawaiians developed a culture rich in traditions, but Christianity and the holiday of Christmas were not introduced until much later after Western contact.

The first Christmas in the Hawaiian islands was celebrated in 1786 when Captain James Cook’s crew, including some Brits and Americans, docked their ships along the coast of the Big Island on December 25th. They celebrated with a Christmas dinner and drinks aboard their vessel.

Later on, in 1820 the first American missionaries arrived to spread Christianity across the islands. They brought the holiday traditions of Christmas with them and taught native Hawaiians about the biblical origins of the holiday.

While some Hawaiians were resistant to abandoning their traditional polytheistic religion, many did adopt and incorporate aspects of Christmas over time.

Local Traditions and Customs

Over the generations, Hawaiians fused Christmas with their own cultural traditions and the islands developed some unique local customs for the holiday season.

One fun tradition is the annual Honolulu City Lights celebration each December. Residents adorn palm trees with twinkling lights, decorations, and giant candy canes along the downtown streets. The event culminates in a choreographed light show and fireworks display synchronized to Hawaiian Christmas music.

Another popular custom is the placement of rainbow-colored Nēnē goose sculptures around towns. According to folk tales, the rare indigenous Nēnē goose used to help ancient sailors navigate to the islands. The brightly colored goose statues pay homage to this history while spreading holiday cheer.

Food is also an important part of Christmas in Hawaii. A common local dish is roast pig cooked in an underground imu oven along with tropical fruits and veggies. The smoky, sweet pork is then served for Christmas dinner, sometimes accompanied by spam musubi, pineapple glazed ham, macaroni salad, and other local favorites.

So while Christmas in Hawaii may seem unorthodox compared to snowy, winter wonderlands, the islands have developed their own wonderful blend of holiday traditions over the years.

How to Say ‘Merry Christmas’ in Hawaiian

Spreading holiday cheer in the Hawaiian language is easy with these popular Christmas greetings. From traditional phrases to modern twists, here’s how to wish others a merry Christmas in true Hawaiian style.

Mele Kalikimaka

“Mele Kalikimaka” is the iconic Hawaiian Christmas greeting, made hugely popular by Bing Crosby’s hit song of the same name in 1950. It simply means “Merry Christmas” in Hawaiian. The phrase is fun, melodic, and sure to spread smiles at any holiday gathering in Hawaii.

To properly say “Mele Kalikimaka”:

  • Pronounce it as “MEH-leh Kah-lee-kee-MAH-kah”
  • Emphasize the middle syllables: “lee-KEE”
  • Sing or shout it joyfully to fully capture the holiday spirit!

For extra credit, learn the whole first verse of Bing Crosby’s smash hit “Mele Kalikimaka” and perform it for friends and family. It’s guaranteed to be a holly jolly hit.

Hauʻoli Lā Hoʻomaikaʻi

“Hauʻoli Lā Hoʻomaikaʻi” means “Merry Christmas Day” in Hawaiian. Let’s break it down:

  • “Hauʻoli” means happy or joyful
  • “Lā” means day
  • “Hoʻomaikaʻi” means blessed, fortunate, prosperous, or congratulatory

So the full phrase wishes people happiness and blessings on Christmas Day. It’s a beautiful, meaningful way to share the spirit of the season.

Be sure to pronounce the glottal stops (“ʻ”) when saying “Hauʻoli Lā Hoʻomaikaʻi” out loud to sound like a local!

ʻOnipaʻa Na Lā Hoʻomaikaʻi

“ʻOnipaʻa Na Lā Hoʻomaikaʻi” is a newer Christmas saying in Hawaii that’s been gaining popularity. It translates to “Merry Christmas days” and conveys wishes for multiple joyful days over the holiday season.

Let’s break this phrase down too:

  • “ʻOnipaʻa” means steadfast, faithful, firm, enduring
  • “Na” means the plural form (so multiple days instead of just one)
  • “Lā Hoʻomaikaʻi” means blessed, fortunate, prosperous days

So “ʻOnipaʻa Na Lā Hoʻomaikaʻi” expresses hope that the Christmas spirit and people’s happiness will continue enduring over the many festive days of the season.

Hawaiian Phrase Meaning
Mele Kalikimaka Merry Christmas
Hauʻoli Lā Hoʻomaikaʻi Merry Christmas Day
ʻOnipaʻa Na Lā Hoʻomaikaʻi Merry Christmas Days

So whether you use the classic “Mele Kalikimaka,” the traditional “Hauʻoli Lā Hoʻomaikaʻi,” or the more modern “ʻOnipaʻa Na Lā Hoʻomaikaʻi,” you’ll be spreading tons of Hawaiian holiday cheer. Now you can say Merry Christmas in true Hawaiian fashion.

Other Christmas Sayings and Traditions in Hawaii


Pīnao is a Hawaiian Christmas dessert made of sweet potatoes and coconut milk. It resembles a custard and has a creamy, smooth texture and sweet flavor. Pīnao is often served during the holidays in Hawai’i along with other traditional foods like kalua turkey.

According to Hawaiian legends, pīnao got its name from the way cooking causes bubbles to form in the mixture, which resemble pearls (pīnao means “pearl” in Hawaiian).


The niuhi shark is a Hawaiian symbol that represents the excitement leading up to the Christmas and New Year season. According to folklore, niuhi sharks would appear near shorelines during the Makahiki season from late fall to early winter.

Ancient Hawaiians considered this a sign of a fruitful upcoming harvest. Today, images of smiling niuhi sharks symbolize the Hawaiian Christmas spirit of joy and anticipation.

A popular tradition is to make niuhi shark decorations called niuhi kāpala to display in homes and buildings. People weave together dried coconut fronds (kāpala) to form the shape of a shark with a grinning mouth full of teeth.

These cute and spirited decorations reflect the playful Hawaiian celebration of the holidays.

Hānau Hōʻailona

Hānau Hōʻailona (literally “birth of a wonderful sign”) is the Hawaiian term for Christmas Day, December 25th. The word comes from the Christian belief that Jesus was born on this day as God’s divine sign of a savior for humankind.

The term beautifully captures the Hawaiian spirit of reverence and gratitude for the natural wonders of the world.

In ancient Hawaii, many common sayings referenced extraordinary natural events as auspicious signs from the gods. The Hawaiian term for Christmas likens Jesus’s holy birth to a wonderful heavenly sign of blessing for the world below.

Just as Hawaiians valued the divine signs found in nature, Hānau Hōʻailona expresses awe for the divine revelation of God’s son on the first Christmas.

Saying “Hauʻoli Lā Hānau Hōʻailona!” (Happy Birth of a Wonderful Sign Day!) is a uniquely Hawaiian way to wish others a meaningful Christmas.

The Story Behind Hawaii’s Christmas Anthem: Mele Kalikimaka

The Making of a Christmas Classic

The beloved Hawaiian Christmas song “Mele Kalikimaka” has an interesting backstory. In 1949, radio personality R. Alex Anderson was asked to write an island-style Christmas song by a Honolulu record company.

Drawing inspiration from the islands’ relaxed culture and native language, Anderson crafted the lighthearted tune wishing listeners “Merry Christmas” in Hawaiian (Mele Kalikimaka).

Anderson recruited Hawaiian musician and singer Don Ho to perform what would become Hawaii’s Christmas anthem. The catchy song, featuring ukulele, steel guitar, and breezy vocal harmonies, was an instant hit locally when it debuted on Honolulu radio.

Within a decade it became a nationwide craze when Bing Crosby recorded his iconic version in 1950, introducing “Mele Kalikimaka” to the mainland US.

Over the years, many artists have covered the feel-good carol, from Jimmy Buffett to Disney’s Lilo & Stitch. But it was Bing Crosby’s smash rendition that rocketed “Mele Kalikimaka” to international stardom.

The song has sold millions of copies and is recognized as Hawaii’s unofficial Christmas anthem played during the holiday season.

Popularity and Legacy

So what explains the runaway success of this Hawaiian tune? “Mele Kalikimaka” stands out for its unique island vibe and easily recognizable refrain wishing listeners “Merry Christmas” in Hawaiian. Ukuleles strumming island-style riffs combined with relaxed vocal harmonies conjure up images of swaying palm trees and sunny beaches.

The song has taken on deeper meaning in the islands, where cultures blend and the spirit of aloha flourishes. To locals, “Mele Kalikimaka” embodies Hawaii’s diversity and reminds them that the holidays are a time for celebrating connections and sharing joy.

Over 70 years since it debuted, Hawaii’s Christmas classic remains beloved for spreading cheer and the island spirit. According to Billboard, it is still one of the most-played holiday songs in Hawaii each December.

Ukulele virtuoso Jake Shimabukuro calls it “one of the greatest Hawaiian songs ever written.”

So while “Jingle Bells” echoes through the mainland US, islanders sway to the breezy rhythms of “Mele Kalikimaka.” Over time this Hawaiian tune has become synonymous with Christmas joy and the welcoming spirit of aloha.


The Hawaiian islands have developed some delightful homegrown Christmas traditions over the years. By learning how to say ‘Merry Christmas’ (Mele Kalikimaka) and exploring other Hawaiian holiday phrases, you can get into the island spirit.

We hope this guide gave you some fun new ways to celebrate the season and wish others well in true Hawaiian style. Mele Kalikimaka ame Hauʻoli Makahiki Hou (Merry Christmas and Happy New Year)!

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