If you’re spending the Christmas holiday on the sunny shores of Hawaii, you’re likely to hear people sharing seasons greetings that sound a little different than in the rest of the world. “Mele Kalikimaka” is the Hawaiian version of Merry Christmas, and it’s a phrase with an interesting cultural history.
The Hawaiian language is made up primarily of vowels, forgoing the harsher consonants of the English language. Hawaiian has no “r” or “s,” and syllables do not end in consonants. When missionaries first sailed to Hawaii in the early 1800s, they did their best to interpret the native language in written histories of the island culture. The resulting language morphed into what we now consider Hawaiian.
“Merry Christmas” was a particularly tough phrase to translate into Hawaiian. It has a lot of letters that aren’t used in the Hawaiian alphabet. And so Merry Christmas became Mele Kalikamaka, which rolls off the tongue rather nicely! For more on the history of how this holiday greeting came to be, check out this article on MauiNow.com
And if you’re just wondering how to properly say Mele Kalikamaka, all you have to do is listen to the song that made the phrase famous! Written by Robert Alex Anderson, Mele Kalikamaka was made famous by Bing Crosby in 1950 and covered by many other artists since. It made its big screen debut in National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation and also appeared in L.A. Confidential. The song celebrates the spirit of Christmas along with the Aloha spirit of the islands:
Here we know that Christmas will be green and bright
The sun to shine by day and all the stars at night
Mele Kalikimaka is Hawaii’s way
To say Merry Christmas to you