“The children thought it would be doing God’s service to devote this day to merriment.” – Amos Cooke
Feasts and games for four months! This is how our ancestors celebrated this time of year called Makahiki, a traditional Hawaiian festival for everyone to participate in and enjoy. Games that tested strength, speed, focus and accuracy were played; and the winners were proclaimed and touted throughout the islands! Moa paheʻe (dart sliding), kukini (foot races), hukihuki (tug-of-war), ulu maika (lawn bowling) and other games were played. More serious competition was also a part of Makahiki, testing sportsmanship, food gathering, awareness and vigilance.
While Makahiki was underway, wars and conflicts were strictly forbidden. For Hawaiians, this was a time for “peace on earth and goodwill toward men.”
During the time of Makahiki in 1786, another holiday, Christmas, was believed to have been first celebrated in Hawaiʻi on an English merchant ship, the Queen Charlotte, that was docked in Waimea Bay, Kauaʻi. Under the command and orders of Captain George Dixon, the crew prepared a Christmas dinner of savory roasted pig, pie, and a holiday cocktail of coconut milk and rum. They spent the evening reminiscing and toasting their families and friends back home.
In 1819, another English navigator, Captain Nathaniel Portlock, entered a closing footnote in his daily log that he had spent the day ashore handing out pocketsful of little treats to Hawaiian children. He also reported a visitor to his ship. Gracefully, Captain Portlock wrote, “Kiana came off a long double canoe, and brought me a gift of hogs and vegetables which I received gladly and prepared a feast for all; in return, that pleased him very much.” Christmas gifts had been exchanged in Hawaiʻi.
The Christmas holiday was informally celebrated every year in the lives of the missionaries and especially the Hawaiian children. The schoolmaster of the Chiefs’ Children’s School noted in his diary in 1843, “The children thought it would be doing God’s service to devote this day to merriment.”
For many years after that, it was reported that “Christmas is becoming more generally noticed in Hawaiʻi.” King Kamehameha IV recognized that there had not been a royal proclamation of thanksgiving. After observing the holiday and festival of Christmas during his travels to Europe, he honorably declared December 25 to be the national day of thanksgiving in his kingdom, celebrating Christmas as an official holiday in 1862. This was pleasing to everyone!
Today, much about Christmas has changed since it became an official holiday in Hawaiʻi 158 years ago; but much remains the same in the ways we observe this holiday with church services, celebrations, decorated Christmas trees, presents, singing and dancing, delicious banquets of food, decadent baked delights, and warm spirit beverages to toast this day of thanksgiving – Christmas.
Although 2020 has been a year of challenges, turmoil, sickness and casualty, let us set our sights on that which we are gifted as a Hawaiian nation, a Hawaiian people; the “spirit” of sharing the significance of life, compassion, kindness, peace and responsibility for all and for future generations. These virtues are expressed through the warm genuineness that are hallmarks of the Hawaiian people: music, chant, hula, arts and cultural traditions. This “spirit” is aloha.
“To be kind and generous is no new thing in the history of our race. It is an inheritance transmitted from our forefathers. I cannot fail to heed the example of my ancestors.” – Alexander Liholiho, King Kamehameha IV
Keeping this in mind, as our monarch, King Kamehameha IV, and our ancestors acknowledged Christmas as a day of thanksgiving, may we also do the same. Mele Kalikimaka!