12 DAYS OF CHRISTMAS: Family trades chilly Sacramento weather for warm, sandy beaches in Maui

(Photo used by permission of Sonja Hansen)
The Hansen family takes their annual picture with Santa at the Cannery Mall in Lahaina in 2015.

Cultures around the world have special ways of celebrating the Christmas season. In the “12 Days of Christmas” series, sophomores Jack Christian and Allison Zhang will interview students and teachers on their international Christmas experiences. Check back tomorrow to hear about Christmas in Rwanda from sophomore Brandy Riziki.

For most Sacramentans, Christmas means mugs of hot chocolate, rainy weather and fake snow machines.

But for sisters Bianca and Sonja Hansen, a sophomore and junior, when Dec. 25 rolls around, so do warm weather, beaches and a Santa Claus in swim trunks rowing a canoe with his elves.

That’s because every Christmas for the past six years, their family – their mom, dad and younger sister, third-grader Morgan – stays in a hotel on Ka’anapali Beach on Maui.

According to Bianca, they started going to Hawaii because their mother hated cold weather.

“It’s funny that we come back pretty sunburned after winter break,” Sonja said.

Usually, the Hansen family orders a small Christmas tree to be delivered to their room because there aren’t many places to buy them near their hotel.

“One year we decided to drive around the island to find a real Christmas tree,” Sonja said.

“Six hours and two buckets of throw-up later, we finally did, but it looked more like a tall weed like in the classic ‘A Charlie Brown Christmas’ movie.”

Because they own an apartment in the hotel, the Hansens have tinsel, lights and ornaments stored to decorate the tree. But, according to Sonja, it’s been very difficult to find decorations.

“We went from store to store looking for stuff and found the only stockings left on the island at a Walgreens, and they were stockings for dogs,” Sonja said.

“My stocking has a golden retriever on it. Bianca’s has a brown dog and Morgan’s is a bunny.”

(Photo by Chuck Hansen)
Junior Sonja Hansen, sophomore Bianca and third-grader Morgan stand on top of a waterfall at their apartment’s pool in 2015.

In the Whalers Village mall, a small outdoor mall near their hotel, there is a large Christmas tree and other decorations.

“Most of the decorations of Santa are of him doing the shaka sign in swim trunks with a surfboard,” Bianca said.

At Lahaina Cannery Mall there is a Santa with whom children can take photos, just like in Sacramento. But that’s where the similarities end.

“When we had Christmas in Sacramento, my mom would dress Bianca and me in very nice holiday outfits, and then we would wait for hours at the Arden Fair Mall for a quick sit on Santa, only to be pushed off by the next child,” Sonja said.

But the longest line she has ever experienced in the mall in Maui had four people, she said.

“Our laid-back Hawaiian Santa recognizes us every year and asks us how we’re doing while his elves dress us up in props – I suspect to hide our tangled hair and greasy sunscreened faces as best they can – like Santa hats, elf ears and, of course, leis,” Sonja said.

“After a dozen goofy pictures with all of us doing the shaka sign, Santa gives us each several handfuls of candy canes.”

On Christmas Day, after opening their presents, the Hansens go down to the pool or the beach and play for a few hours.

(Photo by Chuck Hansen)
Third-grader Morgan Hansen stands next to her family’s tree on Christmas morning 2013.

They then have their Christmas dinner at a buffet in one of the other hotels, Bianca said.

At the buffet, as opposed to drinking hot chocolate, they have guava juice.

And everyone there says “Mele Kalikimaka,” Hawaiian for “Merry Christmas.”

And for the New Year, there is a tradition called E Ala E that is put on by the hotel, Sonja said.

“On New Year’s morning at around 5 a.m., we get up and go to the beach where there’s this guy with a conch shell,” she said.

“He gives a speech about how (E Ala E) is a Hawaiian tradition, and that by wading into the water, we are cleansing our spirits and washing away our problems for the New Year.

“Then we chant “E Ala E” over and over until the sun rises, and then we go into the water. It sounds like some kind of a cult, but it’s really peaceful.”

E Ala E means “Awaken!” and the process of going into the water is called Hi’uwai.

“We joke that the people that go far out into the water have a lot of problems,” Sonja said.

“We missed E Ala E last year because we had to leave early, so this year, I’m going to have to wash away two years’ worth of problems!”

By Allison Zhang

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