Mele Kalikimaka: Christmas in Hawaii

Merry Christmas, everyone! For many people Christmas celebrations end on December 25. But in our family we’re Twelve Days of Christmas types! For the big day itself we met with my dad/the kids’ Dziadziu (Polish for grandfather) at the halfway point: Hawaii.

We spent our first two nights in Honolulu on the island of Oahu, visiting the USS Arizona and USS Missouri in Pearl Harbor.

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Tessa decided to try a surfing lesson and caught waves on her first time out, proving that is far cooler than any of us will ever be.

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We enjoyed dinner and checked out the Christmas decorations at the Hale Koa, the military’s fancy resort in Waikiki.

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Next we flew to the Big Island: snorkelling, Volcanoes National Park, and our hands-down favorite activity: a helicopter tour over the lava fields.

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After four nights there it was back to Oahu, more snorkeling at Hanauma Bay, then home to Japan the next morning.

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How I Became a Fake Christmas Tree Person

Hey there! So it’s been a while since my last post–about two months. I didn’t plan to take such a long break, but life, family madness, and -blink- two months fly by! But here I am, and it’s Christmastime, %$#^@# it. So to quote the local grocery store, Let’s Make a Christmas!

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Such a fancy photo!

For many Christmas revelers, Christmas means a Christmas tree. For a certain subset of Christmas tree-obsessed people, this further means a real tree that once lived in the ground and not one of those giant toilet brush-looking fake trees. For the real-Christmas-tree-obsessed residents of Japan–this spells trouble. A few stores sell real trees for about $250-$350 for a standard five to six foot tree. Most of said trees are mostly dead. Like, drops all needles, already-brown-when-you-get-it dead.

As military types, we have an excellent resource that most Americans in Japan don’t: the Navy Exchange on base sells real trees, and for the same price as you’d find in the U.S. That’s a good deal, right? As with anything provided by the Navy, there’s always a catch.

Let’s rewind a bit to December 1, 2015. Last December marked the beginning of our first Christmas in Japan. I heard that the Exchange started selling trees right after Thanksgiving, but in our family we always put up our tree later. As a kid we didn’t decorate the tree until Christmas Eve, and we left it up until the Feast of the Three Kings on January 6. As an adult I put my tree up a little earlier–like mid-December. So I went to the exchange last December 1 to scope out the selection and see what might be available in two weeks time when I was ready to buy. So I went to the outdoor garden area and saw…nothing. Like, NOTHING nothing. There were a few broken branches and rack after empty rack that had held trees the week before. I asked the sales staff what happened to all of the trees, and she said that they sold out by noon the day after Thanksgiving. The word on the street was that the nearby Army and Air Force bases hadn’t ordered any trees at all and told their shoppers to come to the Navy base. So they did.

I stood there stunned.

As I told some Navy friends this story a few weeks ago, our friend Karen interrupted, looked me in the eye, and asked, “Did you cry?”. Karen’s from New England and has similar Real Christmas Tree emotional baggage, so she asked with no judgment whatsoever.  So I answered honestly: Yes, I cried.

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And a close-up of a family heirloom ornament! So arty….

Now I realize that in the big-picture sense of global catastrophes, a lack of a real Christmas hardly merits tears. But I couldn’t help it. Suddenly all of this emotion came flooding out, and how can I have no tree at all, or even worse a fake tree, and WE ARE NOT FAKE TREE PEOPLE, and the kids will be so disappointed…and on and on. I give the Navy Exchange employees a lot of credit. They were so kind as I stood there blubbering in the corner of the Holiday Cheer Special Outdoor Tent and tried to pull myself back together. Once I got a hold of myself I chose a fake tree and apologized meekly. The employees just smiled kindly and shared their stories of how hard their first Christmases in Japan were.

So I went home with my fake tree expecting wails and protests from the kids, assuming that they are the same real trees snobs that I am. During the drive home I imagined their comments, my consoling responses, etc. When I got home I gave them the abridged version of my shopping trip (minus my emotional meltdown in the Holiday Cheer Special Outdoor Tent) and presented the fake tree. “Cool! Does this mean that we can put up a tree even in years that we travel for Christmas?”. Why yes it does, I responded. “OK, let’s put it up!”. And that was that.

This year the Exchange started selling real trees on November 16 (!!). And either the Army and Air Force ordered their own trees this year or the Navy Exchange ordered a second shipment, because I saw stacks of real trees for sale last week on December 6. But it didn’t matter, since our giant, lovable toilet brush tree already stood fully adorned in our living room.

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When in reality, we have this–a giant toilet brush jammed between the television and the ukulele. Merry Christmas, everyone!