Let’s look at some key phrases that you may hear in Hawaii during the Christmas and New Year’s holiday season: Mele Kalikimaka me ka Hau’oli Makahiki Hou—Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!
Coming from France, I was used to hearing and saying “Joyeux Noel” or “Bonne et Heureuse Annee” during the holidays; Christmas in Hawaii is in many ways like anywhere else in the world with it’s own cultural twists and local traditions.
Mele Kalikimaka (Merry Christmas)
The Hawaiian people did not celebrate Christmas prior to the arrival of Captain Cook in 1778. It was, however, the protestant missionaries from New England who first arrived in 1820 who introduced Christmas to the Hawaiian people.
The words “Mele Kalikimaka” are a phonetic translation of “Merry Christmas.” When the missionaries brought the custom of Christmas to the islands, the Hawaiians had difficulty pronouncing “Merry Christmas” and turned it into words that rolled more easily off their tongues.
Hau’oli Makahiki Hou (Happy New Year)
The western Christmas and New Year fell during the same time of the year that the Hawaiians traditionally honored the earth for giving them plenty to eat. This period of resting and feasting was called “Makahiki” and no wars or conflicts were allowed during that time.
Because mahahiki also means “year” the Hawaiian phrase for “Happy New Year” became “Hau’oli (happy) Makahiki (year) Hou (new).” In order to pronounce it right, you should say “how-OH-lee mah-kah-heek-kee ho.” Try it, if I can do it (French accent included) you can do it!
Have fun with Hawaiian words…enjoy the Aloha Spirit and your holiday season in Hawaii. I’m sure you will agree with me: just being here is a “makana” (gift)!