Santa Claus Comes to Honolulu (1922)

We have recently expanded our American County Histories collection into the West. This item appeared in Hawaiian Annual for 1922 in our Hawaii County Histories segment.


It may interest others beside the inquirer of the Annual awhile ago, to learn when “Santa Claus” first came to town, and note the changes his benign influence has wrought in the community by the recognition of the Christmas season and their observance of the day.

Mention was made in one of our early reminiscent papers that the recognition of New Year’s was much more general formerly than was the observance of Christmas, not only as a holiday, but as the season for the exchange of gifts and for social calls. This was the custom in vogue which is traceable back to the early ’40’s, and probably earlier. Christmas had but occasional mention as a holiday till well into the ’50’s, the only event of a festive social gathering noted, being in 1844. That year’s Christmas was reported as observed by the closing of places of business, and “the people engaging in customary amusements of the day,” whatever that may have been. In the evening Mrs. Dudoit, the lady of the French consul, gave a large and very agreeable entertainment, but no mention is made of “Santa Clans.”

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Even in 1852 no word of Christmas is given in the Polynesian, though the day of the paper’s issue, that year, editorial attention being given toward New Years’ as shown in the following notice:

“We are glad to learn that the pleasant custom of calling upon the ladies on New Year’s Day will be kept up this year, and that many gentlemen are contemplating going the rounds among all their acquaintances on that occasion. If the weather is propitious, it bids fair to be a busy day for the gentlemen as well as ladies of Honolulu.
“We like the practice, and are glad to perceive that it is making way, and finding more and more favor among the foreign residents of this city.”

This custom apparently continued without change till 1856, when, by royal proclamation, the Hawaiian Thanksgiving, which, since 1849, had been observed the last day of the year, was joined with Christmas, and special religious services were enjoined. Naturally public attention was enlisted.

A communication by a “New Englander” in the Polynesian of that year accounts for the non-observance of Christmas hitherto, in substance as follows:

“Christmas is becoming to be more generally noticed in America; but a few years back multitudes scarcely thought any more of Dec. 25th, than any other 25th. … In the settlement of New England, the Pilgrims endeavored to free the church from all rites, ceremonies and holy days not made obligatory … as set forth in Holy Writ. … Inasmuch as the Bible was silent about Christmas, Lent, and other holy days, the early New England settlers declined to have anything to do with such days … and its influence has been felt down to the present time.”

Honolulu papers carried no Christmas ads of any kind up to this time, nor did evening auctions of Christmas goods take place till two years later (1858). There were three evening sales in 1857, but not specified as holiday goods. It was left for John F. Colburn, with one evening sale, “For Christmas,” to be the pioneer in what became attractive events of the holiday season, when A. P. Everett, John H. Cole, S. G. Wilder, E. P. Adams, Jas. F. Morgan and C. M. Cooke wielded the gavel and made them society events, with “front seats reserved for the ladies.”

No notice of the day appears in 1856 or ’57, so the spirit of change may be safely placed in 1858, and the first mention of a Christmas gathering of young folks, at which “Santa Claus” presided, was at Washington Place, given by Mrs. Dominis.
The eventful day that year had unusual press recognition, nearly a half column notice being given, largely devoted to this social event, in part as follows:

“Christmas passed oil in good old fashioned style. The eve was ushered in by the assemblage of a large number of children and their parents at Washington Place, the mansion of Mrs. Dominis, where Santa Claus had given out that he would hold his court, … A magnificent Christmas Tree had been provided … and the little folks as they gathered about it … found it all lighted up with candles, and the branches bending with the weight of gifts. Prompt as old Father Time ever was, bells were heard at the windows … and in a moment old Santa Claus stood at the door before the youthful group, who greeted him with a volley of merry shouts. He was dressed in the garb in which children love to imagine the saintly old elf.

“For an hour he bestowed his gifts with princely lavishness among the 100 children present, creating one of the happiest groups ever witnessed in Honolulu … who will long continue to talk of Santa Claus of Washington Place.”

The trade woke up to the spirit of the occasion the following year, von Holt & Heuck being the pioneers in Christmas advertising with an announcement to “Prepare for the Holidays,” in a six-inch ad of “Fancy Articles Suitable for Christmas and New Year’s Presents.” The rival auctioneers of that time, A. P. Everett and J. F. Colburn, held three evening entertainment between them during December of Christmas and New Years’ goods, thus establishing a holiday season trade-feature that lasted many years.

Christmas fell on Sunday in 1859, which delayed the arrival of Santa Claus, but two evenings later he took possession of “Little Britain,” the spacious residence of Capt. G. H. Luce, and made merry with a larger gathering of little folks in his distribution of gifts, following which, their elders indulged in dancing till the small hours.

Thus Santa Claus and his Christmas Tree came to Honolulu, and established himself in the hearts of Hawaii’s cosmopolitan peoples, for the gracious influence of his kindly spirit manifests itself with increasing power, as evidenced in the Community Christmas Tree, with carols and tableaux portraying the Bethlehem event, held for several years past at the executive building and grounds, the outgrowth of the “Malihini Christmas Tree,” instituted in 1908 by a party of visiting Chicagoans, which was held in Bishop’s Square, to provide gifts to the waifs of the city.

Special attention is now given by the trade to the taste and Christmas needs of the community, goods of high class, and latest novelties predominating in the various lines of selected holiday attractions, little, if any, “consignment” class of toys, etc., as in former years, now being countenanced.

Another important change is the liberal advertising that is done throughout the holidays, which helps the buyers, and creates a period of shopping activity and animation which pervades all classes with the “good-will” air of the season.

Image: The Hawaiian Gazette, Volume LIII, Number 101, Page 2. December 30, 1910.

All images included in blog posts are from either Accessible Archives collections or out of copyright public sources unless otherwise noted. Common sources include the Library of Congress, The Flickr Commons, Wikimedia Commons, and other public archives.

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