Hawaiian Thanksgiving Celebration Predates Pilgrims

Hawaiian Thanksgiving Celebration Predates Pilgrims

Here is a Hawaii Thanksgiving trivia question to start the 4-day weekend. Who declared Thanksgiving a holiday first? Your choices are Abraham Lincoln or King Kamehameha III. If you guessed the latter, you are right. Fourteen years before President Lincoln declared Thanksgiving a national holiday, the Kingdom of Hawaii in 1849, recognized a day of Thanksgiving.

Each king and queen chose their favorite foreign ally. For many, that was Great Britain. But for Kauikeaouli, also known as King Kamehameha III, it was the United States.

In a decree, the King declared Dec. 31, 1849, “a day of public thanksgiving to God, for his unnumbered mercies and blessings to this nation.” 

It’s said that Kauikeaouli designated the holiday to give thanks to the Christian missionaries who arrived in Hawaii in 1820. The state motto of Hawaii, Ua mau ke ea o ka ʻāina i ka pono,” is also attributed to Kauikeaouli and is translated as “the life of the land is perpetuated in righteousness.”

The ancient Hawaiian people established a Thanksgiving called Makahiki.

This four-month festival celebrated Lono, the Hawaiian God of agriculture and peace. It ran from mid-November to late January or February. Makahiki was for the land and people and signified rest and rejuvenation for both. It also marked the end of the harvest season.

Hawaiians restricted certain activities during Makahiki, such as warfare, fishing, and farming, to ensure a focus on feasts, games, and celebrations. The festival included feasts, music, and dance.

Makahiki observance declined after Western contact, although in modern times, there have been efforts to preserve cultural practices, and there are Makahiki celebrations to honor and reconnect with the heritage.

If you want to wish someone a Happy Thanksgiving, you can use the name of the Hawaiian celebration and say, Hau’oli Makahiki Hou. Another interpretation is Hau’oli Lā Ho’omaika’i, which means a happy day of thanks and is pronounced how-oh-lee la ho-o-ma-ee-kah-ee.

Here are some unique elements to celebrating Thanksgiving in the Hawaiian Islands.

While Thanksgiving in Hawaii incorporates familiar elements of mainland celebrations, the local culture and natural surroundings add a distinctive flavor to the holiday.

  1. Cultural Blend: Hawaii is a melting pot of cultures, and this is reflected in Thanksgiving celebrations. You might find traditional Hawaiian dishes alongside classic Thanksgiving fare. This also includes the classic deep-fried turkey. If you try this where you live, remember to thaw and dry the turkey first, keep the fryer away from your house, and don’t overfill the pot with hot oil.
  2. Local Ingredients: Given Hawaii’s rich agricultural landscape, Thanksgiving meals often feature fresh, locally-grown produce. You might enjoy dishes with a tropical twist.
  3. Outdoor and Garage Celebrations: Many families in Hawaii take advantage of the beautiful weather to have picnics or beachside gatherings. It’s also popular to open your garage, set up tables, and host friends and family.
  4. Luau-Style Celebrations: Some families opt for a luau-style Thanksgiving, incorporating Hawaiian traditions and entertainment into their celebrations.
  5. Community Events: Some include the annual Turkey Trot race on Thursday, the Waikiki Holiday Parade on Friday, and the Hawaii Kai Parade on Saturday. Check each island for events.
  6. Gratitude for Nature: Hawaiians are deeply connected to nature, and Thanksgiving provides an opportunity to express gratitude for the beautiful landscapes and unique environment that the islands offer.
  7. Volunteer Opportunities: Given the importance of community in Hawaiian culture, many people take part in volunteer activities and community service during the Thanksgiving season to help those in need. This includes making meals and serving the homeless.
  8. Reflecting on Island Blessings: Thanksgiving is a time for reflection, and in Hawaii, this might include appreciating the unique blessings of island life, such as the ocean, mountains, and diverse ecosystems.

Beat of Hawaii will be at a large house party on Kauai for Thanksgiving. Wherever you celebrate, we wish you Hau’oli Makahiki Hou!

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2 thoughts on “Hawaiian Thanksgiving Celebration Predates Pilgrims”

  1. While I may find Christmas or Easter to be the most important holiday/Holy Day for me, Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday for this reason: all Americans can celebrate it – all races, religions, and national origins. All you have to do is appreciate/love the USA.

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