Serving up holiday folk tales island style


POSTED: Sunday, December 06, 2009

It makes sense to imagine that the first Christmas in Hawaii was observed with a luau, hula performances and a service led by the missionaries. But according to Big Island kumu hula and Hawaiian cultural practitioner Leilehua Yuen, the missionaries were Protestants who associated such festivities with excesses of the Catholic Church.

“;As the Bible makes no mention of celebrating Christmas, the missionaries did not do so,”; said Yuen, a Hilo native who learned about Hawaiian history and traditions from her paternal grandparents, Henry and Thelma Yuen, and the late Nona Beamer, a beloved cultural authority. “;In fact, the first Christmas in Hawaii took place in 1786, 34 years before the missionaries arrived!”;

If your curiosity is piqued, plan on attending Yuen's “;Fireside Stories”; presentation at Volcano House on Christmas night. She'll recount the tale of the first Christmas in Hawaii during a program that will also feature chants, hula, music, recipes and sing-alongs. (Those who aren't able to attend can find the story on Yuen's Web site at www.kaahelehawaii.com/pages/culture_christmas.htm.)





        Place: The Christmas presentation will be at Volcano House in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, Big Island. The hotel will be undergoing renovations, so starting in January, the event will be held indefinitely in Volcano Art Center's Gallery, next to the park's Visitors Center.

Day: Last Friday of every month


Time: 7 p.m.


Cost: Free; donations are appreciated. Show your park pass or purchase one at the entrance. Cost is $10 per private vehicle, and it's good for seven days.


Phone: 967-8222


E-mail: .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)


Web site: www.volcanoartcenter.org


Notes: Enjoy cocktails and a Christmas buffet dinner at Volcano House before or after the event. Current nighttime temperatures in Volcano can drop to the 60s, so dress warmly. On Jan. 29, Boone Morrison will be discussing “;The Restoration of the 1877 Volcano House.”; On Feb. 26 the presentation by Loke Kamanu and Wahine Mercado will focus on “;Family Hula Progressions.”;




Volcano Art Center launched the “;Fireside Stories”; series in June. The hourlong sessions have run the gamut in subject matter, from “;Folktales of Hawaii's People”; and “;Stories and Chants of Pele (the Volcano Goddess)”; to “;Growing Up in Volcano Village in the 1940s”; and the “;History of Artists in National Parks.”;

“;It's an opportunity for people to learn about the islands in a relaxed, entertaining manner,”; said Amanda Spaur, VAC's program coordinator. “;Through these presentations, we hope visitors and kamaaina will come to appreciate everything that makes Hawaii special.”;

According to Spaur, all of the presenters are gifted storytellers who are from or have extensive knowledge of the Big Island, particularly the Kilauea region. “;We've worked with many of the presenters in some capacity in the past, be it through workshops, performances or art exhibits,”; she said. “;These living legacies have so much knowledge and so many wonderful experiences to share. They add a vibrant personal dimension to learning that textbooks can't provide.”;

“;Fireside Stories'”; intimate setting in the historic Volcano House, perched on the rim of Kilauea Crater, adds to the event's appeal. There have been four incarnations of this landmark hostelry. Mark Twain stayed there for several days in June 1866, when it was a thatched-roof structure with just four rooms renting for $4 per night. In his story for the Sacramento Daily Union, the famed author wrote, “;Finding a good hotel at such an outlandish spot startled me considerably more than the volcano did.”;

Word about Volcano House quickly spread throughout America. In 1935, “;Ripley's Believe It or Not!”; reported that the fire in the hotel's hearth, around which “;Fireside Stories'”; attendees gather, had been burning for 61 consecutive years. If that's true, it has now been warming the hotel's lobby nonstop for more than 135 years!

“;Our Christmas program by Leilehua Yuen and her husband, Manu Josiah, who's a talented musician, promises to be really memorable,”; Spaur said. “;Leilehua is truly an island treasure. Her presentations sometimes move people so much, tears trickle down their cheeks. We hope a big group will join us for a heartfelt, magical Christmas evening with Leilehua and Manu.”;

In addition to the first Christmas in Hawaii, Yuen will be sharing stories related to the Makahiki season, which began around the middle of October in ancient times and lasted for four months. Warfare and most work were prohibited; instead, it was marked by feasts, sports and religious observances. Yuen and Josiah will lead attendees in singing a “;Makahiki carol”; that she has written.

“;Christmas, Makahiki and winter solstice, which fall in December, are all associated with renewal,”; Yuen said. “;I enjoy spending time at Volcano during this season because Kilauea, the home of Pele who creates this land through her eruptive activity, is a powerful symbol of rebirth and regeneration.”;

The same might be said about VAC's inspiring “;Fireside Stories.”;


Art center promotes the isles

The nonprofit Volcano Art Center was founded in 1974. Operating through a cooperative agreement with the National Park Service, its headquarters in a building dating back to 1877 that once housed Volcano House guests.

VAC's mission is to promote, develop and perpetuate the artistic and cultural heritage of Hawaii's people and environment through activities in the visual, literary and performing arts. Its gallery and gift shop sell original works by 300 local artists in a wide range of media, including photography, painting, ceramics, jewelry, sculpture and wood.

Purchases support the artists as well as VAC's extensive offerings to the community: music and dance concerts, literary readings and book signings, community theater, summer arts camp for children, visual arts workshops, environmental and Hawaiian language classes, traditional hula performances, exhibits and demonstrations, and the bimonthly Volcano Gazette publication.

A basic VAC membership includes a subscription to the Volcano Gazette, 10 percent discounts on most gallery purchases and class and workshop fees, 20 to 35 percent discounts on theater and music events, and invitations to members-only events. Higher memberships offer additional benefits such as reciprocal privileges at more than 200 museums and cultural institutions in the U.S., Canada and Bermuda.

Membership dues start at $25 per year. For more information, call 967-8222, e-mail .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) or visit www.volcanoartcenter.org.

Cheryl Chee Tsutsumi is a Honolulu-based freelance writer whose travel features for the Star-Bulletin have won multiple Society of American Travel Writers awards.