Holiday spirit meets the aloha spirit in Hawaii

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The Kauai Festival of Lights, celebrating its 23rd year, displays trees decorated with recycled and repurposed materials.
The Kauai Festival of Lights, celebrating its 23rd year, displays trees decorated with recycled and repurposed materials.
Tovin Lapan
Tovin Lapan

The holiday season in Hawaii is a busy one, with a wave of visitors to close out the year and a plethora of diverse events throughout the Islands that add festive cheer to the tropical setting.

December is consistently one of the top three months for visitor traffic, and in 2017 and 2018 it was the top month for visitors by air, according to Hawaii Tourism Authority reports.

There's lots to do in the Islands to help get into the holiday spirit, including events for nature lovers, charity-supporting affairs, and culinary programs. Meanwhile, many of the resorts will host special Christmas Day meals and New Year's Eve parties of their own. Here's a look at some of those offerings.  

Bright Lights, Tropical Islands

It's the 35th anniversary for Honolulu City Lights, where a 50-foot tree adorns the city center and there are glittering lights fanning in all directions. In addition to the luminous display, there are events throughout the month of December, including a holiday movie screening Dec. 14 and free milk and cookies night on Dec. 21. Honolulu City Lights, based at the Frank F. Fasi Civic Center Grounds, is open daily from 8 a.m. to 11 p.m. and will run through Dec. 29, including Christmas day.

Kauai's Festival of Lights, celebrating the holidays with an eye toward sustainability and environmental conservation, has become a popular annual December activity on the Garden Isle. Participants use recycled materials, including water bottles, aluminum cans. plastic containers and more, to create eye-catching, illuminated displays. The event is marking its 23rd year in 2019 and takes places at Kauai's Historic County Building. Popular themed trees from previous years include the Spam Can Tree  and the Aloha Recycled Treasures tree, decorated with plastic water bottles. A recent addition is Fire and Rain, with cutlery used to represent 2018's Kilauea Volcano eruption and Kauai's 50 inches of rain within 24 hours. The Festival of Lights opened Dec. 6 and continues on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays through Dec. 22 from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. through Dec. 22. It will also open on Dec. 24 and on Dec. 28, also from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. Admission is free.

Active Cheer

Hawaii Island's KapohoKine Adventures has special tours lined up for both Christmas and New Year's Eve fun. The Christmas in Paradise program, offered Dec. 14 and 15 for both brunch and dinner includes a trek through the Honolii woods followed by a ride on a side-by-side zipline course boasting views of waterfalls and verdant ravines. At a pavilion overlooking an 80-foot double waterfall, guests will enjoy a Christmas barbecue meal served by Mrs. Claus and Santa's elves complete with Champagne and beer as Santa and Rudolph zip across the waterfall to greet them and take pictures. Price is $99 per adult and $69 per child ages 5 to 12. Participants must be at least 5 years old and weigh at least 35 pounds.

KapohoKine Adventures New Year's Paddle Out Experience pushes off at 10:45 p.m. when participants will load into either a single or double kayak, two-seat clear hull canoe or stand-up paddleboard to head out into Hilo Bay. The group then rafts together to enjoy the fireworks over the city with a Champagne toast. Price is $89 per person and includes equipment rental, guided paddle and Champagne.

Get a jump start on health-related resolutions and burning off the Christmas day pastries with a scenic Dec. 22 5k run through Kona on Hawaii Island. The Jingle Bell Beach Run is a family-friendly event (with a one-mile option for those who balk at the three-mile course) and offers awards for both the fastest and best costumed runners.

Holiday Events for a Cause

The Hawaii Convention Center is home to the closest thing to a winter wonderland found in the Aloha State, Winter Wishes - A Holiday Festival. The decked-out complex includes an ice skating rink with themed events, photo-ops with Santa Claus, a gingerbread house display, children's games and activities, holiday craft workshops, live music and other performances and a Christmas tree forest. The event runs through Dec. 24 and is open from 4 to 10 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m  Fridays and Saturdays and 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Sundays, with special hours on Christmas Eve (11 a.m. to 4 p.m.). A portion of proceeds benefit early childhood literacy in Hawaii schools through Kristi Yamaguchi's Always Dream Foundation. General admission is $10 for children (age 11 and under) and seniors and $15 for adults Mondays through Thursdays. Admission on Fridays to Sundays is $15 for children and seniors and $20 for adults.

The nonprofit benefit organization Friends of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park hosts an annual holiday benefit in the park's Kahuku area. Visitors can shop among a variety of booths for locally made crafts, artworks and other gift items on Dec. 14 from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. There will also be live entertainment and snacks, including shave ice and food from the Volcano House.

Stripsteak Waikiki welcomes sweet-toothed architects for a gingerbread house workshop on Dec. 14 from 2:30 to 4:30 p.m. that also benefits the Make-A-Wish Foundation. Participants are encouraged to bring a new, unwrapped toy to donate to the nonprofit organization that helps children with critical illnesses. Tickets cost $35 per person (with a portion going to Make-a-Wish) and include the gingerbread house and decorative fixings, a glass of sparkling wine for adults and milk and cookies for kids, a photo station, a Christmas ornament crafts station and live entertainment.

The Royal Hawaiian, a Luxury Collection Resort is also combining giving with seasonal fun with two holiday-themed cooking classes. Pastry chefs Miki Iwai and Kristie Sagara will teach participants inventive ways to decorate cookies and cupcakes. At Cookies and Cocoa on Dec. 19, participants will use star-shaped cookies to create a gingerbread Christmas tree and snowman-themed cocoa mix in a mason jar. On Dec. 21 the class will learn how to decorate mini-cupcakes to create a cupcake Christmas wreath. Classes start at 10 a.m. and include a cup of hot chocolate and pastries in addition to taking home your own sweet creation. Each class costs $45 per person, and a portion of the price goes to Susan G. Komen Hawaii  Race for the Cure.

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