We checked in this week to find out more about how Christmas happens in Hawaii. One of the topics that came up in our conversation with Siobhan was music. The same familiar carols, hymns, and holiday songs are heard throughout the islands. White Christmas drifts out of the speakers right there under the twinkle lit palm trees and Winter Wonderland is heard at the beach side pig roast. But there are some differences too, like the Hawaiian Twelve Days of Christmas. For most Americans the Hawaiian Christmas song is Mele Kalikimaka.
This ukulele driven Christmas classic was written in 1949 but Robert Alex Anderson, known for his uniquely Hawaiian sounds. The song gathered lots of interest and many fans from the start. The popular 1950 radio recording featured Bing Crosby & the Andrew Sisters. The song’s name is known as the Hawaiian way to say Merry Christmas. Not entirely true. It is a translation, of sorts. To get the whole story behind the name we go back to 1778 when Christmas first came to the Islands with the arrival of Captain Cook. The holiday did not catch on immediately. It would not become wide-spread until the arrival of New England missionaries in the 1820s. These missionaries helped to translate the language and to create a written version of the Island tongue. The words Merry and Christmas were spoken by the Hawaiian natives and due to the differences in language sounded like Mele Kalikimaka. The terms are a Hawaiian phonetic translation of the English phrase. Simple. The lyrics are simple too- basically a repetition of the same two stanzas:
Mele Kalikimaka is the thing to say
On a bright Hawaiian Christmas day
That’s the island greeting that we send to you
From the land where palm trees sway
Here we know Christmas will be green & bright
The sun to shine by day & all the stars at night
Mele Kalikimaka is Hawaii’s way
To say Merry Christmas to you
It really is a happy, cheery little song. Listen to it’s carefree lilt and imagine a warm breezy holiday picnic on the beach. This version by Bette Midler should help set the mood. Aloha!!
I learned the Hawaiian phrase for Happy New Year too- Hau’oli Makahiki Hou. The phrase grew from the period or resting and fasting with 4 months of no war and no conflicts. The term Makahiki translates to year. Han’oli translate to Happy, and Makahiki has a track on year. I will be looking into more foreign language faves in our area for Christmas.