It may not snow on the islands, but we can assure you that Christmas on Maui is just as festive. You’d be surprised at the possibilities of trading in a White Christmas for a sandy one. A Christmas in Hawaii will be a lot warmer, that’s for sure. Where else would you get the luxury of a day at the beach this time of year? Maui is full of the holiday spirit, sporting local events, festivities, and entertainment to fulfill all your Christmas moods and cheers, with plenty of aloha to go around. Even Santa makes his way down to Hawaii to get in on the fun. Here are all the things you can do together with the ohana to get those Christmas bells ringing.
Photo credit: The photo in the header image by Ratha Grimes
Behold the Banyan Tree-Lighting Ceremony
What better way to herald the start of Christmas on Maui than to attend the banyan tree-lighting ceremony in Lahaina. Front Street’s historic banyan tree, in front of the Lahaina Harbor, is a worthy substitute for your usual Christmas tree. The banyan’s sprawling branches and prop roots are a wonder to behold – all the more so with thousands of Christmas lights running every which way across this age-old beauty. Underneath, you’ll be shrouded and showered with the holly jolly spirit. The ceremony of 2018 will be held on December 1st and the banyan will be lit nightly all through Christmas.
Ride the Sugar-Cane Train
Hop aboard the Holiday Express! The Sugar-Cane Train decks itself out with Christmas lights for the season. Some very special helpers will be joining you for the ride with plates of freshly baked cookies to fill your opu. All you have to do is supply some extra holiday cheer throughout the trip along Kaanapali, where, halfway through, you’ll be picking up a certain bearded, red pajama-wearing individual. This sleigh ride kicks off as early as Thanksgiving, journeying nightly from 6:30pm to 8pm and all through December.
Track Down Santa Claus
If you want to prove that Santa Claus is in fact real, you’ll need a photo with him. Aside from the Sugar-Cane Train, there are plenty of opportunities across the Valley Isle. Santa will be stationed at the Queen Kaahumanu and the Lahaina Cannery Mall for those special photos commemorating your family’s Christmas on Maui. If you’re staying on West Maui, Mr. and Mrs. Claus periodically pull up along the shores of Kaanapali in their outrigger canoe in front of Hula Grill. That’s right, Santa canoes in his spare time. (And he enjoys a plate of poke tacos from time to time.) If you’re on the South side on Christmas Eve, you’ll find Santa making his yearly stop at the Grand Wailea at 9 am, or at noon the Kea Lani Resort before he gets ready for a big day of gift-giving ahead of him. There will be plenty of chances for you to tell him what you want for Christmas.
If you’re like us, then your Christmas shopping won’t be done ‘til the very last minute. There’s Kaahumanu and Maui Mall whose extended hours during the holidays will definitely help you play Santa. There’s also the Shops at Wailea, Whalers Village, and the Lahaina Outlets for those looking to get some high-end shopping done. Also worth checking out are the holiday shopping fairs, which you’ll only find this time of year. Haleakala Waldorf School continues its 30-year Holiday Faire in Kula – an assortment of craft vendors to choose from, as well as local dining and bakery, live entertainment, a silent auction, and an Elf parade to enchant the keiki in attendance. A little something for everyone. Lastly, there’s the Hui No’eau Visual Arts Center in Makawao, a month-long Christmas shopping exhibit featuring work from the finest Valley Isle artisans. Art pieces, stocking stuffers, and fine jewelry, everything is hand and local-made. Both the Holiday Faire and the Hui Holidays provide a distinctly aloha touch – perfect for anyone in need of a Maui Christmas souvenir.
Book a Whale-Watching Tour
Believe it or not, Christmas marks the best time to go whale-watching in Hawaii. Over the summer, humpback whales are on a krill feeding frenzy in the waters of Alaska. During the winter, they migrate to the warm waters of the Hawaiian Islands for mating season. Who can blame them? Humpbacks seek out the shallow waters of the Au’au channel between West Maui and Lanai. The Pali highway makes for the perfect vantage point to see mothers herding their offspring as they frolic, play, and breach. Humpbacks can also be seen breaching all along South Maui and especially on those Molokini tours. These whales are active 24 hours a day, so it’s a guarantee you’ll see them this time of year. It’s Christmas out on the open waters surrounding Maui. Even marine animals know a thing or two about celebrating Christmas in Hawaii.
Check out the Hotels
This might be the obvious tourist-y thing to do, but it’s also a time-honored tradition among locals. Trees along Wailea Drive are completely dressed in Christmas lights – a mesmerizing sight to see that prompts many, many photos. You’ll find droves of people merrily wandering in and out of hotel grounds, checking out gingerbread villages in the lobbies, children skipping along candy cane-lined walkways, overall delighting in the holiday spirit found all around. Kaanapali, too, offers another memorable boardwalk stroll across the extravagant stretch of hotels, each one housing their own Hawaii Christmas wonder. The Hyatt Regency in particular has got a penguin habitat in the lobby, making them especially popular guests on holidays. Hawaii trades in Christmas trees for palm trees, though, during this time of year, every tree with lights counts as a Christmas tree.
Get a Real Christmas Tree
Besides dressed up palm trees, Maui has its own holiday supply of fragrant Monterey pines, grown and freshly-cut by owners of Kula Botanical Garden. The pines range in size from 3 feet to 18 feet high. The Garden also sells wreaths, cut greens and centerpieces available during the holiday season.
Go for a Maui Christmas drive
It’s not at all unusual among locals to drive around neighborhoods and scan the Christmas competition. As far as who’s got the best show of Christmas lights, families pull out all the stops. This has spurred its own local tradition. The week of Christmas, households are usually done one-upping each other (hopefully) and can revel in the holidays as a community. (After all, it’s Christmas!) These nightly drives are especially popular on Christmas Eve either prior to or following Midnight Mass – church services that welcome anyone whether you’re from here or just visiting. Don’t be shy! Afterwards, take the long way home and go for an aimless drive down Maui Lani or up Wailuku Heights. Virtually any neighborhood will be adorned with Christmas decorations so take your pick! You’ll find carolers too while you’re out, with ice cream trucks driving around dressed as sleds and handing out cups of hot chocolate. You’ll see for yourself why Christmas on Maui is the most wonderful time of the year.
Attend a Christmas Concert
We know that as soon as November comes around you’re already humming “All I Want for Christmas.” The Maui Arts & Cultural Center and the Historic Iao Theater has got you covered. Both venues play host to a bevy of plays and orchestras to dazzle you with classical and Hawaiian Christmas tunes as early as December 2nd. If you’re in the mood for a more casual event, local musicians and high school symphonic bands play their own Christmas concerts at the Queen Kaahumanu Center and Maui Mall – which are free. Some of these programs offer a lucky member from the audience to lead/conduct a Christmas song! Any one of these symphonies will get those sleigh bells ringing.
There’s much and more to do on Maui during the holidays that it’s not a question of what but how much you’ll be able to fit in your Winter schedule. Twenty-five days can wind down pretty quickly, so be sure to savor the occasion. You’ll find that Christmas isn’t marked by snow or the cold, but by the warmth of the people you’re with. A Christmas on Maui with the ohana might truly be the best gift of all.
Adrian Manuel is a freelance writer. He’s published articles on Thought Catalog, written a flash piece for A Quiet Courage, and submitted feature essays for The Good Men Project and Mamalode. He also runs an entertainment news blog where he reports on film, television, and music. He lives in Maui.