In ancient Hawaii, the greeting Merry Christmas was difficult for the Hawaiians to pronounce because English language sounds like “R” in the word did not exist in the Hawaiian language. Thus, Mele Kalikimaka is not a literal translation but simply how we say Merry Christmas in Hawai’i.
The ancient Hawaiians did not celebrate Christmas until after the arrival of the missionaries in 1820. Christmas occurred during the Makahiki, the four-month period of resting and feasting when the Hawaiians honored the earth for giving them plenty to eat. No conflicts or wars were allowed during this time. After the Hawaiians embraced Christianity, it was only natural that they adapted some of the traditions of the Makahiki to the celebration of Christmas.
R. Alex Anderson composed Hawai’i’s popular Christmas song Mele Kalikimaka in 1949. Anderson was born in Honolulu in 1884 and composed nearly 200 hapa haole songs (Hawaiian style music with English words) before his death in 1995. As the story goes, Anderson was in his office in Honolulu when his secretary, a woman from the mainland, mentioned that she had never heard a Hawaiian Christmas song. Thus, he composed Mele Kalikimaka to describe Christmas in Hawaii. Bing Crosby and The Andrew Sisters made one of the earliest recordings on 78 rpm and 45 rpm photograph records in 1950.
Mele Fong and Richard Tom, the husband-wife duo The Hawaiian Serenaders, performed “Mele Kalikimaka” with hula dancers from Kaunoa Senior Center during a Christmas concert at Ka’ahumanu Church on Maui on Thursday, December 20, 2018. The concert was part of the monthly Picnic For Poki series and the video of the performance was produced by Paradise TV. Click on the link below:
Aloha, Mele Fong aka Ukulele Mele