0716E Merry Christmas and Happy New Year in Hawaiian

Friend Marilyn S recently asked a great question:

“Which is correct? I’ve seen it written so many ways”

Mele Kalikimaka a me ka Hau`oli Makahiki Hou
Mele Kalikimaka me ka Hau`oli Makahiki Hou


The expressions “Happy Christmas”, “MerryChristmas”, and “Happy New Year” have been used, as far as I know, in English-based culture since about 1700, with “Merry Christmas” becoming especially popular following Charles Dickens’ use of the phrase in his book “A Christmas Carol” (1843).

It was, of course, through the influence of the Christian missionaries in Hawaiʻi, espcially post-1820, that the concepts of Christmas and “New Years” were brought here. The whole idea of greetings (like saying “Good morning” and so on) came from English and American influences in the 1800s and so the Hawaiian language adopted these foreign expressions.

One way to adopt the new expressions was by using words already in the language. An example of this is “Aloha kakahiaka” for “good morning”, where “aloha” does not mean “good” but sends a similar intent or message to the listener as “good” does in this context in English. The word “kakahiaka” means “morning”.

Another way was via “Hawaiianizing” English words, where the English language words were sounded out in ways that were familiar to the Hawaiian tongue. An example of this are the words “mele” for “merry” and “Kalikimaka” for “Christmas” in the expression “Mele Kalikimaka”!

This same process happened for “Happy New Year”. Some people say “Hauʻoli Makahiki Hou” (lit., happy year new – in correct Hawaiian word order); and others say “Hape Nūʻia” (direct Hawaiianization of the sounds of the English words).

There are variants of these greetings which are evident in some of the old Hawaiian newspapers and are still heard here and there between Hawaiian language speakers. I have seen “Aloha Kalikimaka” (1895, 1927) as well as “Hauʻoli Kalikimaka” and “ʻAnoʻai Kalikimaka” (1923). Interestingly, the first occurence I found for the word “Kalikimaka” being mentioned at all in the old Hawaiian newspapers was in 1877 (“Ka Lā Kalikimaka ma Kawaiahaʻo” – Christmas Day at Kawaiahaʻo).

So the question remains about how to join both greetings together. Well, here is the version I would say is best, and is my personal choice for both speaking to someone as well as writing in Christmas cards:

“Mele Kalikimaka” a “Hauʻoli Makahiki Hou”

(You could substitute “Aloha Kalikimaka” and “Hape Nūʻia” in either of those spots if you wish of course.)

Using the quotations allows you to keep each expression in its own “package”; it’s exactly the same as the two English language phrases being juxtaposed and it comes out sounding like I am talking to you and saying one greeting/wish after the other as quotations. Using “a” to join the two quotations is like the English word “and”, so it completes the “Hawaiianization” of the two English-based expressions: Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.

It would also be correct to say “Aloha Kalikimaka me ka Hape Nūʻia” (with aforementioned substitutions available of course). This is using the word “me” to join the two expressions and gives the feeling of “together with”, so you would be saying “Merry Christmas together with a Happy New Year”.

I would say that the “a me ka” joiner is not the best choice there; it’s not grammatically wrong, but it is not the best sounding to my ear.

Thank you for writing Marilyn. Your question was a good one indeed!

aloha nui me ka mahalo hoʻi!

Pane mai

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