The holidays are supposed to be the most joyous time of the year. Why, then, do so many people stress about everything and get so ugly? I get it that O‘ahu’s already-horrendous rush-hour traffic, which, for some reason, lasts until 9 at night, gets even more unbearable; that long lines at stores and restaurants get even longer; and that seemingly normal people get pushy and hostile. But this happens every year, so shouldn’t we be better at coping?
Living on Läna‘i, I am sheltered from a lot of the holiday havoc. We don’t have big-box stores like Target and Costco, and “traffic” here is more than five cars lined up at a stop sign. We have no shopping centers — not even strip malls, and there’s no 45-minute wait to grab a bite to eat in-between Christmas shopping. People don’t get vicious trying to get their hands on the last sale item, or camp out overnight — or for days at a time — so they can check off stuff on their kids’ wish list for Santa. We don’t have brawls in our stores for the last shopping cart, or screaming matches in the parking lot over the last stall. The markets do get a little busier just before a holiday when residents are stocking up on ingredients. But it’s nothing like the kinds of lines or madness you’d find at a Safeway or a Foodland.
Even though we are spared from much of the typical big-city holiday pandemonium, Lanaians do gear up for the holidays in other ways. For example, many residents are Amazon prime members, which qualifies online Amazon shoppers for free shipping and sometimes expedited delivery service to Läna‘i. So, even though Black Friday shopping isn’t a big deal here, Cyber Monday is huge, and folks take advantage of all the online holiday deals. The post office is cranking for months leading up to Christmas because most gifts get here by mail. The harbors are also bustling with activity. Larger items arrive on the weekly Young Brothers barge to Läna‘i.
The locals also commute to Maui to do a lot of their Christmas shopping. For a $50 round-trip, residents can catch a 45-minute ferry from Mä-nele to Lahaina, get their holiday shopping done and then catch the boat back the same day. Some make multiple trips throughout December and even turn it into a weekend event.
For many residents, traveling to Maui to get stuff done is part of living on Läna‘i. People still go off-island for their eye doctor or dentist appointments. They use their kids as pack mules to go on Costco runs and sometimes turn it into a family event by also cramming in a movie and eating at Genki Sushi. I’ve even heard of couples or friends hopping over for a couple of hours for lunch when they just can’t kick their craving for dim sum or pho, because the ferry is so convenient. It takes the same amount of time to get from Läna‘i to Maui by ferry as it does to get from Kapolei to downtown Honolulu on a normal Sunday, so I can see why so many Lanaians treat Maui like their playground.
Travel to O‘ahu also increases significantly leading up to the holidays because the real diehard shoppers will spend a weekend or two scouring Ala Moana, Waikele Outlets and Pearlridge. I’ve heard of people spending Thanksgiving with their extended family on O‘ahu or Maui instead of with their immediate family on Läna‘i just so they can take advantage of the Black Friday sales.
I kind of love the idea of a bunch of moms and girlfriends planning an off-island weekend shopping trip together. Everyone pitches in for the hotel and car and the ladies pound the pavement all day, pausing only for lunch, followed by pau hana cocktails and dinner to show off all their great finds. It’s like a grown-up slumber party that lasts the whole weekend. These trips are usually pretty strategic. Everyone knows exactly what stores and malls they will hit and they usually have a good idea of which of their favorite restaurants they want to eat at while visiting — I know I do whenever I go back to Honolulu. I have my meals planned out depending on where on the island I will be and my shopping companions for the day.
When I’m on O‘ahu, I’m on a mission: It’s all about food and shopping for essentials such as hair products, makeup, shoes and other things that are not readily available on Läna‘i. When I’m with my mom, aunty or sister, we opt for Thai or Vietnamese. When I’m with my dad, we usually eat seafood or some type of meat, followed by a run to Sports Authority or one of the gun shops.
With one year of residency on Läna‘i under my belt, I’ve learned some other holiday planning techniques. For example, I stock up on holiday cards and wrapping paper, because the pickings are slim on Läna‘i. I used to have a whole storage box of wrapping paper, bows, ribbon and cards for every occasion, but I had to downsize my stash when we moved to Läna‘i. For years, I had stocked up on gift-wrapping supplies at after-Christmas sales, when they are all half off the regular price. I learned the hard way about Läna‘i’s limited options when I was invited to a baby birthday party last year. The only card I could find at the store in October was a Halloween card. I literally hand-wrote “. . . and Happy Birthday!” on a card that said, “Have a Spoooooky Halloween” on the inside with a witch on a broomstick on the cover. When I shared that story with friends at the party, they laughed and sympathized with me because they had all been there. Evidently, it’s not uncommon to receive an Easter card for Mother’s Day, or a “Get Well Soon” card for your birthday. Some people are more practical and direct: They forego the card all together and just put cash or a check in a blank envelope. I guess these are the non-sentimental types that skip the heartfelt message and just fork over the cold, hard cash.
Speaking of envelopes, after having to throw away two brand new boxes, I learned from the locals here that a good way to prevent the humidity from making the glue tacky and sealing the envelope shut is by storing them in your freezer or in Ziploc bags. Läna‘i air is moist and humid because of the city’s high elevation, so residents have developed lots of little tips and tricks for managing and dealing with mildew and moisture. I found out firsthand about the envelopes while trying to mail in my electric bill one day; every envelope I picked up was stuck shut. I ruined a bunch of them while trying to gently pry them open before finally giving up and chucking the whole box. I now stash my envelopes in my air conditioned, temperature-controlled office.
People on Läna‘i also cook and bake more, rather than buying ready-made food, because there really aren’t many options. Other than the Four Seasons’ bakery, which makes breads and pastries and other desserts for the hotels, there is no stand-alone bakery on the island, so people here have mastered the art of making pumpkin, custard and haupia pie. Every year, at least one nonprofit organization is smart enough to sell pies from an off-island bakery as a fundraiser just before the holidays, and people come out in droves.
This year, Alex and I spent Thanksgiving in Honolulu with my family. Only in Hawai‘i will you find mashed potatoes and cranberry sauce on the counter next to a big pot of nishime and ‘opihi. I love it. As usual, everyone ate until they were stuffed and then crashed out all over the living room. It was nice to be home and to eat home-cooked comfort food. But the best part of Thanksgiving turkey is still to come . . . I can’t wait for the jook!
Shara Enay Birbirsa resides on the island of Läna‘i, where she is Pulama Läna‘i’s liaison with the island’s community. Shara is a former writer for The Hawai‘i Herald and Hawai‘i Business magazine. She has been writing this Drama Queen Journals column since 2006.