Christmas in Hawaii: Island Santa and Volcano Skiing

Spend the normally chlly holidays in Paradise

Let it snow. Let it snow. Let it snow. But in tropical Hawaii? It's unlikely except on Mauna Kea (more on that below), although certain shopping centers around Oahu have shipped in faux white powder granules in an effort to re-create a winter wonderland for local families. My friends and family have often commented that Christmas in Hawaii wouldn’t feel, well, like Christmas. I say "Bah Humbug" to them! We do indeed have our own Yuletide spirit—island-style.

City of Lights

Hawaii certainly gets decked out during the holiday season, especially on Oahu where downtown Honolulu is aglow with strands of lights  and various Christmas decor, including the Snow Family of snowmen and a jovial 21-foot-tall Shaka Santa and Mrs. Claus. These larger-than-life outdoor figures provide countless photo settings for families celebrating the holidays. The month-long celebration has been a 30-year tradition in the Islands and one that shouldn’t be missed.

Colder Climes

Need to feel the chill to get into the spirit? In previous years, I’ve rented skates at Ice Palace to rekindle a youthful tradition of hitting the rinks on Christmas Eve with friends. Of course, those days happened around rinks in Toronto, Canada, but the feel of the cold air on my cheeks and gliding around the oval arena brings back those childhood memories. It’s even fun to watch—and say— the Zamboni, the tractor-like machine that resurfaces and smooths over the ice after heavy skating traffic.

Skating by The Sea

Over on Maui, The Westin Ka‘anapali Ocean Resort Villas has transformed its outdoor Ocean Lawn into a holiday escape, complete with a 1,000-square-foot hybrid ice skating rink that offers a stark contrast to the view of the Pacific Ocean and migrating humpback whales. Open to hotel guests and non-guests alike, there is a $15 fee for an hour’s access to the rink, including skate rental. The skating rink is open daily through Jan. 2, 2013.

Schussing on the Big Island of Hawaii

Man-made ice skating rinks and enormous Island-style Santas aside, one thing that always surprises travelers in Hawaii is to learn that you can ski the Big Island. Admittedly, skiing in Hawaii is not for the timid spirit, nor is it for the inexperienced. There are no resorts. There are no lifts and there is no grooming. A 4WD is your ski lift to the top of Mauna Kea, where downhill involves slalom moves around rocks jutting into your path. Take in the views from the peak of this extinct volcano. The winter conditions on Mauna Kea are often changing, but usually have temperatures from 25 F to 40 F, although the wind chill and altitude make it seem much colder. Forget about going up or down the hill if the wind is blowing too hard; the gusts will be too cold, too dangerous and the road will probably be closed. Late January through March is when you're most likely time to experience snow skiing on the summit of Mauna Kea.

Gingerbread Village

For an edible Christmas scene, Sheraton Princess Kai'ulani Executive Chef Ralf Bauer and his merry band of chefs and engineers have turned the resort's lobby into an edible gingerbread village.

Themed “Hawaii and the World, a Global Holiday Celebration,” the holiday display includes medieval churches, bell towers, train stations, a carousel, a skating rink, German Village with its castle and Swiss Chalet and Alps. It also features such iconic Hawaii landmarks as Kawaiahao Mission Church, the Moana Surfrider hotel, Iolani Palace and Aloha Tower. This year, Bauer has added France’s Eiffel Tower, London’s Tower Bridge and a Japanese pagoda. 

Requiring more than 800 hours of  design work, construction and set up, the gingerbread village was prepared with 250 gallons of icing, 150 pounds of dark chocolate, 50 pounds of white chocolate and 90 sheets of gingerbread. It stands over 14 feet high and spans a width of 24 feet.    

“Every year, we look forward to seeing the children’s joy as they discover every detail of the village,” Bauer says. “Visitors from all over the world come to Hawaii to see our gingerbread wonderland and experience the traditional Christmas atmosphere with the island’s touch of aloha.”    

I couldn’t have said it any better.

Mele Kalikikimaka and Hauoli Makahiki Hou! (Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!)