Holiday decorations in Hawaii encompass many different cultural traditions. Even on these tropical islands, many decorations include pine and snowflakes, but always with a twist – like the white Japanese lanterns that join a pine garland on the front of this office building. They celebrate the holiday season, which includes many different religious observances in Hawaii.

Since today marks the beginning of Hanukkah, it seems appropriate to take note of the religious persity present in Hawaii. As with the mainland, Hawaii’s religious majority is evangelical and mainline Protestant with a combined 44%, according to a recent survey. However, the state’s Buddhist population is counted at 6% compared with only 1% on the mainland and, although small, the categories of Hindu and “other religions” are double that of the mainland. The number of “unaffiliated” at 17% is the fourth largest category (after evangelical Protestant, mainline Protestant and Catholic). There is no single majority religion, just as there is no single majority racial or ethnic group in Hawaii.

Hawaii’s racial and ethnic composition is much more colorful than in any of the other 49 states. The United States as a whole is 66% white (not including Hispanic), according to the U.S. Census, while whites are just 24% of the population in Hawaii. The number of Asians is almost 40% in Hawaii, compared to just over 4% for the entire U.S. The next largest racial group is “persons reporting two or more races”: almost 19 % in Hawaii, less than 2% for the U.S. as a whole. It is important to note that “Hawaiian” is a specific ethnic group now about 9 percent of the state’s population but less than one percent of the entire country.

Regardless of ethnicity, we are each different from our fellows in faith on the mainland (whether Christian, Jew, Muslim, Buddhist or Other), just because we share this rock in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. Hawaii’s holiday decorations often reflect this tropical tie – the common thread through the unique racial and religious composition of the Hawaiian islands.

(Information in this post is drawn from my essay “Common Claus: Santa as Cross-Cultural Connection,“ recently published in Christmas & Philosophy: Better Than a Lump of Coal (Wiley-Blackwell).


  1. As one of the people in Hawaii  "reporting two or more races", I found this post to be most helpful.  Thank you for taking the time to write it.  I was most curious with the religious break down.  Nice Job!

  2. HmmI interesting.  I did not know about it.  I sdhould visit my friend this Holiday and more friends too  🙂

  3. Giovanni – glad you enjoyed the post. The rich cultural mix here is one of the things I like best about Hawaii!

  4. I have a great idea! I might visit Hawaii this holiday season and be with my friends. That way i could learn more about Hawaii's colorful racial and ethnic composition. Reading your blog awakens in me an almost forgotten longing to spend a long vacation in this beautiful islands in the Pacific. Thanks!

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