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How Christmas Came to Hawaii - Part 4




It took half a column in the Polynesian to describe the event. The tree was lighted with candles and its branches bent with the gifts. Saint Nick held court in a doorway where he passed out more presents and handfuls of candy. "Later in the evening dancing commenced and when it ended is hard to say". It was a Christmas to remember and only one is remembered better. The bishop had arrived in October to establish a mission of the Church of England. A month later, the king and his queen, the little Emma Rooke with whom he had attended school, stood before him to be confirmed. The king had first requested the mission years before and it had been accomplished with only much personal effort. Now it was done and Christmas was drawing near. The king was deep in grief because his only child, the Little Prince, had died only months before, but he felt that the church's holy festival should be officially observed. In 1862, Christmas was proclaimed a national holiday in Hawaii by authority of King Kamehameha IV. It was 76 years since the first observance in Waimea Bay.

The city threw itself into the preparations. Churches throughout the land threw spectacular celebrations. The king sent to the mountains for cypress boughs to decorate the temporary Anglican cathedral and supplied myrtle and flowers from Queen Emma's garden. The Fort Street Calvinist Church produced a huge growing Christmas tree. In the newspapers, the merchants advertised 'toys in great supply' and 'dolls of all kinds', and Christmas displays took large parts of their stores. Children gazed in awe at the arrays of candy in the confectioner's window and chanted a little rhyme." Candies red as rosy morn, Cakes which Emperors wouldn't scorn, Sugared roses without thorn, Made to order by F. Horn."

To add to the gala appearance of the town, flags were displayed onshore and on the ships in the harbor. For a week before the holiday, the Anglican choir practiced carols. Guns on Punchbowl were readied for a salute. Kukui torches were prepared and fireworks were gathered. The king lent all his candelabra to the church. On Christmas Eve, all the churches were ready. The Catholic Cathedral of our Lady Of Peace was illuminated from pavement to dome with wreathes of light. Inside, the altars were beautifully decorated and more than a thousand candles were lit. The tree at the Fort Street Church carried more than 200 small lights and its branches were burdened with gifts for more than 70 students, with no two gifts alike. At 11:30, when midnight service began, the Anglican church was ablaze with light from the king's candelabra. Service continued until one a.m., then the guns were fired and flaming barrels of tar rolled from the heights of Punchbowl. The king and the bishop began their slow procession from the church to the palace. Behind them walked a vested choir of twenty, and twenty torch bearers lit the way for the members of the congregation.

Throughout the streets of Honolulu the procession marched in slow cadence, singing Christmas carols. The assembly stopped briefly at several places to call out special greetings and light innumerable green candles, then marched on to the palace gates where Archdeacon Mason described a vivid scene: "The torches and blue lights were ranged round the small circular piece of water in the middle of the palace grounds. The fountains played grandly and the reflection of the torch lights, together with the clear brilliant moonlight of these latitudes on the water, and on the dark excited faces of the people, were very remarkable. At this moment, some really good fireworks were let off and rockets shot up into the air amidst deafening shouts from a thousand voices for the king and queen.

We sang the grand old carol, Good King Wenceslas, and after a glass of champagne punch we made the air ring with the national anthem and another round of protracted Hurrahs and so to bed." Christmas had come to Hawaii.

Our thanks to the late Hoku Paoa Stevenson for this feature which she presented at the Queen Emma Summer Palace to a keiki halau (children's hula halau). She was the live-in caretaker at the Palace. She actually paraphrased a book which she had bought at a yard sale, a very old publication of Hawaiian Dredging's.

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