In Glee Club at Kamehameha (mid 1960s), this was a Christmas favorite of mine along with “O Holy Night” and “Pöla‘i Ē.” Our kumu was Dale Noble. Perfection was his mantra. His bar was high but balanced. He made singing and performing fun. I’m sure those of us who knew him “upfront and personal” as a teacher and choral director will agree. My frail memory fifty years later recalls every German word of “O TANNENBAUM” (O CHRISTMAS TREE) without effort.
Christmas as a kid growing up in Waimea was always a festive time. Parker Ranch was the cornerstone, anchor and economic engine of our town. The Ranch, through Richard Smart (its part-Hawaiian owner), took kuleana for making it a very special time. Mr. Smart gave a gift to every student at Waimea School whether your dad, or mom, worked for the Ranch or not. NO CHILD WAS LEFT OUT….about 200 or so!
The Ranch also sponsored an annual Christmas Eve event at Barbara Hall, an evening of speeches, remembrances and music. It was a time for paniolo to showcase their talents. I remember two uncles, Johnny Rickard and Pakana Spencer. It’s too bad we didn’t have today’s technology back then to record their soulful renditions of “O Holy Night” and “Christmas Island.”
There were those rare occasions when Mr. Smart would make a surprise appearance and rock the hall with his rich baritone voice. The entire community was invited. Being that was all that was going on that night before our town shut down, I swear every Waimea patriot from newborn to kupuna was there. A huge tree decorated to the hilt was the centerpiece around which we all gathered. The tree had to come from Parker ‘āina, a tradition put in place years ago. It was either a well-formed cypress or Norfolk Island pine.
The grand finale came with Santa (Joe Pacheco) charging from a dark chilly sometimes rainy night into Barbara Hall chanting, “Ho! Ho! Ho!” The sweet roar of “Jingle Bells” and “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” ensued. Everyone’s adrenalin was pumping now. His ‘eke (bag) was filled with brown paper sacks. Everyone got one. They were filled with hard candy, an apple, an orange, raisins and Waikīkī walnuts. A kahu would bless everyone and unabashedly wish the assembly, “Merry Christmas!” Political correctness was never a concern. A delightful night us kids wanted to go on forever came to an end.
As we rode home that night, “…visions of sugar plums danced in our heads,” The final, big annual event was just a few hours away. Then, it was Christmas morning. We tore the ribbons and wrappers off of the few boxes sitting under our Douglas fir tree followed by a breakfast of bacon, eggs and saloon pilot crackers laced with Darigold butter which were dunked in piping hot coffee.
Our tree was always a Douglas fir (Pseudotsugo douglasii). Its scent was so intense, alluring and aromatic. We never tired of the smell of pine. I never heard of Noble or White firs. We were from “The Land Before Time,” okies from Waimea. Our Douglas fir was humble, sparse, spindly, never full or well-formed, standing proud in a corner of our living room draped in recycled ornaments, tinsel and lights.
Some years ago I learned that the Douglas fir is linked to Hawai‘i Island. It’s named after Scottish botanist, David Douglas, who died in 1832 at Kaluakauka, Laupāhoehoe after falling into an earthen pit while trekking the north slope of Mauna Kea.