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Merry and Bright: A Guide to Honolulu City Lights and Hawaii Christmas Season Illuminations

Posted on December 2, 2015

Story by Derek Paiva

Shaka Santa and Tutu Mele cool off at the Honolulu Hale fountain as part of Honolulu City Lights, the city’s annual Christmas season light display. Photo credit: Derek Paiva.

So you’re headed to the city that never snows this holiday season.

(That would be Honolulu, by the way.)

First off, Happy Holidays! You’re going to have a wonderful – and warm – time here. But did you know that what our Oahu metropolis lacks in traditional winter wonderland touchstones (snow, sledding, snowmen and snowwomen, ice skating, temperatures below 65 F, more snow) it more than makes up for in public displays of Christmas illumination? Well, now you do.

Honolulu City Lights is the big town’s official annual display of Hawaii-style Christmas spirit. It’s free, and open to the public every evening throughout December at Honolulu Hale city hall and its neighboring civic center grounds in downtown Honolulu. But if you’re on Oahu on the evening of Sat., Dec. 5, right around sunset, your plans should include heading to Honolulu Hale to attend this year’s 31st annual Honolulu City Lights’ opening night kickoff.

Be there on Dec. 5 and here’s all the ebullience that’ll surround you:

  • The first lighting of Honolulu’s 50-foot-plus 2015 city Christmas tree. Mayor Kirk Caldwell flips the switch.
  • An electric light parade on downtown Honolulu main thoroughfare King Street, through Chinatown, the business district and past Iolani Palace, ending at Honolulu Hale.
  • Downtown Honolulu’s office buildings switching on their holiday light displays, and the façade of Iolani Palace bedecked with glowing lanterns.
  • The opening of Honolulu Hale’s annual festival of Christmas trees and wreath displays.
  • A collection of colorful Hawaii-themed holiday season displays on the civic center grounds, and giant 21-foot Shaka Santa and Tutu Mele (aka Shaka Santa’s smiling muumuu-coifed wife) cooling off at the Honolulu Hale fountain.
  • Food booths and keiki (kids) rides.

The event starts at 4 p.m., with the electric light parade and tree lighting happening at 6 and 6:30 p.m., respectively, but you’ll want to arrive early. More than 75,000 residents and visitors annually attend Honolulu City Lights opening night, staking out prime curbside King Street viewing spots early.

For a complete schedule of opening night events and start times, visit the Honolulu City Lights webpage by clicking here.

Can’t make it in time for Honolulu City Lights’ opening festivities but planning an Oahu vacation in December? No worries. Everything listed above – save for the light parade, concert and official first lighting of the city tree – continues nightly at Honolulu Hale, the civic center grounds and the office buildings of downtown Honolulu’s business district through Sat., Jan. 2.

And Honolulu City Lights isn’t the only public display of Christmas season illumination happening statewide. Other Christmas season displays happening on Oahu and the neighbor islands throughout December include:

  •  16th annual Kapolei City Lights (Oahu)
    Oahu’s “second city” flips the switch on its official Christmas tree display at Kapolei Hale with an electric light parade and street party featuring food trucks, live entertainment, a farmers market, a local artisans fair and more on Sat., Dec. 12 at 6 p.m. More of a community celebration for Kapolei area residents, opening night here isn’t as big as Honolulu City Lights, but the street party element makes Kapolei City Lights a fun event for visitors, too. The city lights here stay on every evening through Jan. 1. For more information, click here.
  •  19th annual Festival of Lights (Kauai)
    Kauai’s century-old county building, towering palm trees and civic center grounds in Lihue are annually dressed in holiday lights throughout December. Opening night for Kauai County’s public Christmas light display happens Fri., Dec. 4 at 6 p.m. with a ceremonial tree lighting countdown and songs of the season by the Kauai Chorale, followed by the Lights on Rice Street parade. For more information, click here.
  • 18th annual Lighting of the Banyan Tree (Maui)
    The west Maui town’s landmark (and very large) banyan tree, planted in 1873, is set aglow with more than 6,500 colorful lights each December, instantly making it the town’s most popular evening gathering spot. The tree’s official lighting ceremony this year happens Sat., Dec. 5 at 6:30 p.m., following a full-day of live entertainment, kids activities, an arts and crafts fair, and the carving of Banyan Snowman. (Think a snowman carved out of huge cubes of ice and you get the picture.) The banyan tree lights remain on every evening through Jan. 3. For more information, click here.
  • Kilauea Military Camp Christmas Light Display (Hawaii Island)
    After checking out the evening lava glow from the Halemaumau crater vent at the summit of Kilauea volcano, pay a visit to this military recreation center’s annual holiday light display. You won’t miss it as you drive out of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park on Crater Rim Drive: a full row of the camp’s quaint lodging cottages with their yards and facades bedecked in Christmas lights, decorations and cartoon character effigies set up by camp employees. The cottages are illuminated every evening throughout December from 5 to 10 p.m. Drive by or, better yet, get out of your car and walk the row of cottages – if you’re longing for some winter chill, temperatures at the near-summit military camp often dip into the 40s during the late fall and winter. Click here for map directions and more information about Kilauea Military Camp.

Mele Kalikimaka a me Hauoli Makahiki Hou! (Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!)

About Derek Paiva:
Derek Paiva is an editor and writer on the Hawaii Visitors & Convention Bureau account team at Anthology Marketing Group. A lifelong Hawaii resident, Derek has enjoyed careers in magazine and newspaper journalism, and was editor-in-chief of Hawaii Magazine from 2010 through 2015. He has traveled extensively throughout the Hawaiian Islands, written about them exhaustively, and is always looking forward to exploring and learning new things about his home islands. He can be contacted at derek.paiva@anthologygroup.com.

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