Two anticipated annual Hawaii holiday traditions: dinner at Kilauea Lodge in Volcano Village and a mai tai on the beach at the Mauna Lani Bay Hotel on the Big Island.

The winter holiday season is my favorite time of the year. As an east coast transplant to Hawaii, I do miss the “Will it snow for Christmas this year?” excitement that was always a cherished undercurrent when my family gathered for a week in the Cumberland Gap area of Virginia. But, as a Hawaii resident, I’ve found new ways to celebrate the Christmas season and create new traditions.

Thanksgiving at Kilauea Lodge in Volcano Village

Kilauea Lodge was built in 1938 and is a charming country inn and restaurant located just a short drive from the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. For the first few years I lived on the Big Island, this was our destination for Thanksgiving dinner. Sitting by the fire by the International Fireplace of Friendship is one of my earliest memories of my first Big Island Christmas.

These days, even if we miss the actual Thanksgiving Day event (for which advance reservations are a MUST), we still make it a point to go up for dinner the weekend after Thanksgiving Day. There’s no better way to officially welcome the holidays than to drive up into the chilly high-elevation Hawaiian rainforest for apple cider in the Lodge gazebo followed by a wonderful dinner and a toast to welcome to the season!

Christmas Ritual: Mai Tais at Mauna Lani Bay Hotel

For me, Christmas Eve evening will always be the best part of Christmas. After the sun goes down it’s time for candles, lights, sitting by the tree with eggnog and Christmas music: priceless intimate family time. Don’t get me wrong—Christmas Day is still special, but in the Hawaiian sun it feels a lot less like the “winter” holidays of my childhood. Nevertheless, the celebration continues with a big Christmas afternoon meal reminiscent of “what grandma used to make” (even though a few items on the buffet may be a little more local in origin!).

But what to do after the dishes are done and the leftovers stored away? On the east coast, in my younger years, my restless cousins and I would head out to a movie at the theatre about half an hour from my grandmother’s Virginia farm. In Hawaii, we go to the beach. More specifically, we go the beach at the Mauna Lani.

Each year, the Mauana Lani Bay Hotel on the Kohala coast invites local organizations to display a “Charity Tree” in the hotel lobby during the Christmas season. The donations received when guests “vote” with a $1 donation are split between the entrants. The winning non-profits receive cash prizes (1st place receives $2,000).

The lobby at the Mauna Lani is already beautiful, but, when decorated with dozens of lighted Christmas trees and huge pots of poinsettias, it is stunning. We take time to admire the trees and vote for our favorites in the spirit of Christmas giving. Then, it’s time to head down to the ocean for that uniquely Hawaiian Christmas tradition: a mai tai at Mauna Lani Bay.


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