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).


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