Portuguese and Hawaiian Holiday Traditions

Portuguese and Hawaiian Holiday Traditions

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Since the mid 1800s, Christmas has been celebrated in the Hawaiian Islands. Though Christmas was celebrated long before Portuguese immigration began, the Portuguese brought their traditions to their new home.  These mixed in with local customs to evolve into their own unique celebrations.

First Christmas in Hawaii

The first Christmas celebration in Hawaii was on the island of Kauai in 1786. A group of British explorers shared their Christmas cheer with the Hawaiians.

Christmas wasn’t really celebrated again in Hawaii until the mid 1800s. This was due to the influence of the New England missionaries who did not celebrate Christmas. They considered it a pagan ritual to be avoided at all costs.

This is a description of that first Christmas in the Hawaiian Islands

First Christmas 1786

Christmas in Hawaii in the 1800s

It’s somewhat difficult to find information on how Christmas was celebrated in Hawaii in the 1800s.  As mentioned, early missionaries came from Christian sects that found Christmas to be frivolous and pagan.

In searching through old newspapers, I found mentions of Christmas though not many.

This is an early mention of Christmas in “The Polynesian”, 26 December 1846.

christmas hawaii 1846
Christmas weather, Hawaii, 26 Dec 1846, “The Polynesian”

In a somewhat rambly article, Jingle’s Report, we gain insights on the author’s day, this 30 December 1848 issue of the Polynesian, mentioned that some Christmas revelry had taken place.

parties christmas 1848 hawaii
Christimas parties, Hawaii, “The Polynesiam” 30 Dec 1848

Immigrants Expanded Christmas Celebrations in the Hawaii Islands

We’ve all heard about how Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” published in 1843 helped spread Christmas celebrations to countries like America.  But, did you know it was also the influence of German immigrants to America that helped ease the ban on celebrating Christmas in the US?

The influence of immigrants in Hawaii, especially Catholics,  from the Azores, Madeira, Spain, the Philippines, etc., must be noted.  They brought with them their religious practices and family traditions.  Those traditions blended together making what became Hawaii’s own unique way of celebrating the holidays.

Some Portuguese Traditions

First, let’s take a little tour of Sao Miguel Island. Here we can see the different displays for the holidays.

Now, let’s talk about the creche.  If you haven’t heard of it before, it is nativity scene. I was told that my great great grandmother, Anna Jacinta (de Mello) Pacheco, brought her creche with her to Hawaii.  This was passed down to her daughter, Maria (Pacheco) Cosma, who then set it up in her home in Oakland, California.  I imagine the creche gave them a little feeling of home on the plantations.

In addition to their creches, the Portuguese who came to Hawaii brought their rituals and celebrations.

The family would go to church for midnight mass if they were Catholic. The baby Jesus was placed in the manger after Midnight Mass. In those days, people came to see the “minino Jesus lapinho” –not the Christmas tree. Find out more about this tradition: The Creche

nativity scene creche
Figures form a nativity sceneErikaWittlieb / Pixabay


In the morning, the family starts their celebration. They have a feast called “consoado”. Extra places are set at the table for “alminhas a penar” or souls of the dead.

Read more about the Portuguese Christmas traditions and give the recipes a try:

Traditional Portuguese Recipes from Nuno Mendes
Traditional Portuguese Christmas Recipes
Christmas in Portugal at SantaNet
Article about Portuguese Traditions

The Victorians Influenced Holiday Traditions

Those who came to Hawaii in the late 1800s were part of the Victorian Era. Many of these traditions we follow today were born in that era.

Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” helped to popularize many of those traditions outside of Great Britain.

Find out more about how the Victorians celebrated Christmas, what toys children played with, how their houses were decorated, and so forth.
A Victorian Christmas

The Portuguese Add Their to All the Others in Hawaii

For those living in Hawaii, the Portuguese traditions melded with the traditions of the other nationalities of the islands. Christmas has a definitive Hawaiian air even for the families who left for California and other areas of the world.

portuguese sweet bread
Portuguese Sweet Bread is a holiday treat that everyone enjoys By Vejlenser (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons
A Portuguese Hawaiian cousin share these remembrances of her childhood Christmases.  For her relatives who left Hawaii for California, Christmas Eve was a busy day cooking various dishes for Christmas dinner. At midnight, the family went to church for Midnight Mass, following their ancestors religious traditions.

The family shared Christmas breakfast with a the dish “carne vinho de alhos” and there was always linguica.  My mom still makes linguica for Christmas breakfast to this day.

Christmas Day was filled with family and friends. Christmas presents were exchanged.

But, the celebrations would look somewhat different from the typical American holiday. The men would don Hawaiian shirts and lei’s would be worn by all.

This Hawaiian Christmas themed shirt is awesome and fun, don’t you think? I don’t think my ancestors wore anything this wild though.

Her grandfather and uncles brought out their ukuleles to play Christmas carols. There was plenty of food and the celebrations would be very festive.

How We Celebrate Christmas Today

Old traditions have mixed with the new. Many still attend Midnight Mass or other church functions depending on their religious leanings. Families have dinner together.

Some families still set up a creche or similar nativity scene, but now our festivities center around trimming the Christmas tree, baking goodies, and seeing the Christmas lights in the neighborhood.

Children wait for Santa Claus although his means of travel may differ between localities.

Christmas lights are as big a part of Hawaiian Christmas as anywhere else.  This 2007 video shows the holiday glow in Honolulu.

Christmas lights can be found in many places throughout the world. This website shows photos of Christmas lights on the island of Madeira with its Madeira Christmas and New Years Photo Collection

Magical Azores Islands has some beautiful photos of the Azores at Christmas in its Christmas Light Display Azores 2010

In Hawaii, the celebrations and traditions have their own feel.

Christmas trees and decorations are just as much a part of the Hawaiian tradition as elsewhere. Decorated palm trees are a part of many outdoor displays.  Of course, there is the poinsettia which is grown in Hawaii.  Beautiful plants, aren’t they?

christmas flower poinsettia grown hawaii
Poinsettias are not native to Hawaii, but they were ideal for the climatestevepb / Pixabay

They aren’t native to Hawaii.  They are native to Mexico.  They were brought to the US in 1825, but were soon growing in Hawaii.  You can find fields of poinsettias growing wild in the islands.  Just take a look at the Hawaii Picture of the Day.

Although you’ll find nobles and grand firs as Christmas trees, traditionally, the Norfolk pine was the Christmas tree of choice in Hawaii. It’s a hardy tree and lasts longer than its North American counterparts.

norfolk pine christmas tree hawaii
A more slender but heart pine than the Douglas firsarangib / Pixabay

Find out more about Hawaiian Christmas celebrations at these websites:

Christmas with Aloha
Hawaiian Christmas Trees
Christmas in Hawai’i: Customs, Recipes, Christmas Lights, etc.

The ukulele has become a staple for Hawaiian music. Check out these Christmas collections.

What are your family holiday traditions?  If you’re from Hawaii, tells us how your family celebrates.  Do you still keep some of the Portuguese traditions?  If you aren’t from Hawaii, we want to hear from you too!

Now, have some fun! The Honolululu Avenue Strummers put their own spin on the Christmas carol.

Learn how to say Merry Christmas in many languages!
How to Say Merry Christmas Around the World

Learn more about the history of Christmas:
Christmas on the Net
Spread some Christmas cheer. This is a great site with recipes, kids stuff, stories, and traditions:

© 2002-2017 Melody Lassalle

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