Hawaiian Christmas During World War Two

The Waimea Gazette put together a history of Christmas as celebrated in their community. The discussion of the holiday season during the war provides insight about the rationale of those on the home front especially when they happened to be so close to where the fighting was and had taken place. Comparing the pre-war festivities in this town to those from the war shows some of the sacrifices that were made and how they affected life on the home front. Here’s an excerpt from the piece:

Those who attended these early Ranch parties as children will never forget their excitement in the weeks preceding the event. For many, this night was Christmas! They dressed in their best clothes — some even had new shoes for the occasion — and waited anxiously until evening came. Then families gathered and walked to Barbara Hall, for there were no cars in Waimea. Fathers carried large flashlights to light the way, and you could see neighbors making their way down the streets to town. Many families walked two or three miles in the cold, and sometimes wet, night.

When everyone had arrived and was seated on benches — the same ones which still grace the front lanai of Parker School — the switch would be thrown and the huge tree was bathed in light. Underneath the tree would be the gifts, piled high. After the singing of carols and other formalities of the evening, “JingleBells” would then be sung — a sign that Santa was near. The young children were so excited by then that they could barely control themselves, and Santa himself would appear from the back of Barbara Hall. Gifts would be distributed, and then a special treat — ice cream — would be served in trays that held twenty-five cones at a time. With no refrigeration, Waive children could not pop open a freezer door whenever they had a yearning for a scoop of vanilla or chocolate, and the taste of cold ice cream was a Christmas memory they carried with them throughout the year.

The program ended by 9:30 p.m., and everyone headed home with their gifts. Some spent the evening going house to house serenading and singing Christmas carols. They would arrive on families’ porches and sing until they were given refreshments, small treats, or a small donation. Many of the serenaders played ukulele or guitar and sung with great beauty. Their music filled the night and added to the joyful memories of the Christmas party.

In 1941, the war began and the Christmas parties stopped. It seemed inappropriate to have such festivities while Hawai’i was involved in the war effort, and with the black out, it would also have been difficult to have the tree and its lights. Some families continued to observe the holiday in a quiet way, and the churches maintained their religious observances. At Camp Tarawa, Christmas was celebrated, but few of the soldiers were fortunate enough to join local families during the holidays. A number of Waimea families had become acquainted with soldiers and invited them for dinner or a luau during the holiday season. Tsugi Kaiama was then running “Sue’s Chuckwagon,” a hamburger-style restaurant where Parker Ranch Realty now stands. With her family, she befriended members of the Fourth Battalion Medical Corps, many of whom used to play cribbage in the back of the restaurant, and invited them for a family luau.

After the war, Waimea once again began to celebrate its community Christmas. Parker Ranch continued to take the lead in hosting the party, first at Barbara Hall which had been used as the USO during the war, and then at Pu’uopelu, the Parker family home. Richard Smart, who had returned to Waimea after the war years, was especially fond of this celebration and always became involved in the preparations. Hisao Kimura, who was by then in charge of setting up and decoration of the huge Christmas tree with his “Purple Heart Gang,” remembers how Mr. Smart would come by pau hana every day to check on their work and offer words of encouragement and advice. He always wanted to participate in the choice of colors of the lights which changed each year, and reviewed the daily progress that had been made on the extra limbs that were carefully nailed and wired to the trunk of the huge tree, making it appear twice as thick and wide as it originally was. After checking the main hall, Mr. Smart also visited the warehouse where the three hundred or more packages were being wrapped in distinctive, colorful paper by volunteers. By then, gifts had been brought in from as far as San Francisco — especially the See’s Candy which arrived at the Kamuela Airport — and Honolulu, where hats, shirts and boots were purchased from McInerney’s or Ross Sutherland’s. For the Ranch families, turkeys and hams were also ordered.

Back at Pu’uopelu, Satsue Hamada, the family’s cook, was busy baking a vast array of goodies for the party. For two weeks she would bake and freeze cookies, cakes, fruitcakes, brownies, kanten and other delicacies. Behind the home, veteran tree climbers were also stringing lights on the giant Norfolk pine which is still lit up at Christmas with a white light in memory of Richard Smart. The climbers had to scale the one hundred thirty foot, or higher, tree with spikes, carrying each row of lights. Block and tackle was used to hoist the nine long strings, each filled with twenty-five large, colored bulbs — two hundred and twenty-five for the entire tree. It was hazardous work and had to be attempted only when the day was still, with no wind.

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Charles McCain

Charles McCain is a Washington DC based freelance journalist and novelist. He is the author of "An Honorable German," a World War Two naval epic. You can read more of his work on his website: http://charlesmccain.com/

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