Finals stacked upon finals, group projects and presentations all mark the coming end of the semester. Although it’s hard to look past the next few hours with all that’s on our plates, the best part of the year is only a few days away. That’s right everyone: winter break!

With so many different plans for the break, I thought I’d take the chance to share what Christmas is like in the islands, so consider this your quick Hawaiian Holiday 101.

We’ve all seen the stereotypical Christmas: the evergreen pines blanketed in white, Times Square aglow with lights. Back home, things are a little different.

First off, we don’t have chimneys for Santa to climb down, no matter how magical he is. So he usually leaves presents on the lanai (the front porch), or inside the screen door. And it’s much too warm for him to wear his thick red coat, so according to one local song, he wears a malo (loincloth) instead as he “comes surfing into Waikiki.” The giant statue of our shaka-ing Santa at the Honolulu City Lights is a must-see, and over the years he and his wife, clad in her mu’umu’u, have been joined by turtles, penguins and a family of snowmen.

We still keep a lot of typical traditions alive, albeit with our own little spin. Just a few yards away from Santa, guarding the doors of Honolulu Hale, is the annual Christmas tree adorned in lights and massive ornaments. It’s so well-decorated, I didn’t even know there was an actual tree under there until a few years back. Inside, the building is filled with themed pines and wreaths created by members of the community. Around the city, light displays are prominent, depicting a blooming hibiscus, a growing pineapple and my favorite, a man drinking from a bowl of rainwater.

We open our presents on a warm Christmas morning, like everyone else, but my sister and I always make sure the best Christmas music is playing; there are Hawaiian versions of all the classic songs and you can bet we know all the words! (I thank my years in the Honolulu Boy Choir for that).

I’m not sure what you’re supposed to eat for Christmas, but we grind during the holidays. My mom makes her hamburger casserole, my grandpa is famous for his oxtail soup and my aunty makes the best ham with cherry glaze (the secret is guava jelly!). Add that to our yearly family reunions, sometimes the only day of the year where we reunite to catch up with our relatives and I couldn’t ask for more.

So we don’t ever have a white Christmas, but that’s fine by me. Where else can you go to the beach for a barbecue on Christmas Eve? Besides, what really matters during these special times is the people you share them with.

So whether or not you make it home for the holidays, whether your Christmas is chilly and seasonal or warm and tropical, whether you build a snowman or a sandman, I wish you a sincere “Mele Kalikimaka.” I hope all your holiday wishes come true and that you share the unique spirit of Christmas with all those you share the season with.

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