Tikifying Your Holidays
The lyrics to that Christmas song tell us “it’s the most wonderful time of the year.” But, for Tikiphiles, IS it? Let’s face it, by December, The Hukilau and Tiki Oasis are months away, and although some of you may be lucky enough to live in a year-round warm climate, for most it’s probably too cold outside for a luau, and you’ve packed away your aloha shirts for the winter. Yes, it’s hard to feel very Tiki when you’re wearing thermal underwear.
But I’m going to shake things up a bit for you. It’s time to Tikify your holidays by bringing that happy state of mind we love into the two most unbudgingly traditional holidays we know: Christmas and Hanukkah.
I am not going to go into why some people are so afraid of change, but they are. Especially when it comes to Christmas. One year, I made the mistake of trying to jazz up a relative’s Pillsbury Pigs In A Blanket recipe, thinking it would delight her family. My relationship with her has not been the same since. I might as well have defaced her lawn nativity set! (I’ll be telling you how to do that later in this article.) Anyway, that silly example is precisely WHY you need to inject your Tikifying in a most subtle and lovely way, so as not to traumatize family members, who may not share as deeply in your pop-Polynesian passion. You really don’t want to hear your children sobbing, “Daddy ruined Christmas!” on December 25th. You’ll be paying for their therapy for years.
Now, I’m not saying that there isn’t plenty of charm in the time-tested winter celebrations. I love eggnog, Christmas trees and twinkly lights. I even like snow, when I don’t have to live in it. But no one enjoys hearing “Santa Baby” six hundred times, and nobody likes fruitcake. NOBODY. But… what if that fruitcake was made with tropical fruit? And what if you mixed some Don Ho-Ho-Ho into your holiday music playlist? By the way, did you know, those little cocktail umbrellas look really pretty on the tree? Well, they do. When I sent a mass email out to my friends in the Tiki community, a re-occurring suggestion came back: “How about putting Santa hats on all your Tikis?” Okay, that’s a good start. You can even find mini Santa hats to stick on top of your mugs or smaller carvings. Nothing I have mentioned so far should cause familial annihilation. And if no family member flinches at these subtle Tiki touches, well… care to push the proverbial envelope a bit further?
Let’s start with the Christmas tree. If your family really likes hanging all the old ornaments, let them. Ornaments can be highly sentimental things and let’s not mess with emotions. But, how about getting a second tree that is designated for Tiki greatness? You know all those Tiki pendant necklaces you’ve bought? (Come on! You KNOW you own at least twenty-two!) Wouldn’t they look great hanging as ornaments on your Tiki tree? I’ve been collecting those little fake lava Tiki keychains and magnets and turning those into tree ornaments. Anything with an island feeling will work. Or, you can go in a more “yo-ho” direction and find mini pirate flags to drape on the branches. Seashells, souvenirs from Hawaii, silk leis, a small, framed photo of Donn Beach… just fling it all on! And your tree doesn’t have to be a traditional pine tree. You can buy a palm tree (real or fake) and use that instead. Around the base of the tree, use a grass skirt instead of an ordinary tree skirt. Or go buy some Hawaiian-print fabric and wrap that around the tree stand.
Music plays a big part in getting us in a holiday mood. But nothing kills that mood faster than a playlist full of embarrassing novelty Christmas songs and weepy tunes about how some trucker spent his holiday on the big lonely highway. My friends, Jason and Staci (“The TikiPugs”) Smith, have one of the most extensive music collections I’ve ever seen. To help keep you get started, Jason compiled the following “must have” Tiki-holiday music list for all of you. (Most of these cds can be purchased on Amazon.com)
1) Willie K – Willie Kalikimaka
2) Hapa — Holidays
3) Hawaiian Slack Key Christmas
4) Arthur Lyman – With a Christmas Vibe
5) Petty Booka – Christmas Everywhere
6) Ventures – Christmas Joy
7) Blue Hawaiians – Christmas On Big Island
8) Esquivel – Merry Xmas From the Space-Age Bachelor Pad
9) Ultimate Christmas Cocktails – Box Set
10) Hi-Fidelity Holiday
11) Wave Benders – Surfin’ Christmas
And my addition to this list,
12) The Don Ho Christmas Album
One of my absolute favorite things about Christmas is holiday “lawn trashing.” For some people, decorating the patch of turf in front of their home is as important as what they’ve got going on inside. I love driving around neighborhoods and seeing the surreal combination of plastic nativity sets mixed with plywood Snoopy cutouts and inflatable penguins. What does it all mean? I don’t know! But I think you can do better. Okay, let’s pretend the Virgin Birth happened in Oahu. (I think Mary would have enjoyed it more.) Take your lawn nativity set and put grass skirts and leis on all the players. Swap out the Three Wise Men for three Home Depot quality Tikis. (I would NOT recommend you put anything of value, like your carved wood Tikis, on your front lawn.) Have the Three Wise Tikis bear gifts of rum bottles (filled with colored water). Surround the scene with fake light-up palm trees. (And, by the way, if you own one of those little mantelpiece nativities, you can Tikify it up the same way, only using smaller props.)
“But what about Hanukkah?” you say. “Surely a holiday comprised of dreidel games, songs in a minor key and latkes can’t be Tikified!” Try me. Take a good look at your Tiki mug collection. Pick nine of your favorites, fill them with sand and put one Hanukkah candle in each. You’ve now created a Tiki menorah!
My favorite Hanukkah find last year was a bottle stopper with an attached menorah. I stuck that into my bottle of Appleton Special Reserve and put it on my mantle. Maybe it was the religious overtones, but I swear that rum tasted even better after that. Serve your latkes with tropical jams instead of applesauce. Macaroon cookies are a staple of Jewish desserts, and…aloha! They’re made of coconut! As for music, the most Tikibrew rockers around are Meshugga Beach Party. Get their cds and play them while you sip your Mogen David.
A big part of the holidays revolves around food. Okay, there’s that whole Baby Jesus angle, but holiday food rates higher for a lot of us. Even the ancient Hawaiians were hip to this. Before the missionaries dropped anchor (among other things) onto their islands, the Hawaiians had their own winter celebration, honoring the earth and its abundance, called “Makahiki.” They celebrated by feasting, nonstop, for four months. Four months! (Actually, come to think about it, that’s not too far removed from what we do now — start eating at Thanksgiving and not stopping until we inhale the last Peep at Easter.)
Instead of blathering on about recipes, I’m just going to give you some tips and leave you to run with them. First of all, if you don’t already own a good Hawaiian cookbook, get one. That will inspire you more than anything. I tend to get my best ideas from vintage Hawaiian cookbooks because they seem to lean more towards the pu-pu platter cuisine favored by the great Tiki restaurants of long ago. Keep cream of coconut, canned pineapple, macadamia nuts and tropical jams and syrups around to add to your cooking. Don’t be afraid to introduce one or two Hawaiian dishes alongside your traditional ones. Chicken Long Rice and yams mashed with pineapple won’t be too weird for any family member to try. Oyster stew is a traditional Christmas dish, so why not swap it out with Trader Vic’s oyster-based “Bongo Bongo” soup? Otto and Baby Doe Von Stroheim like to Tiki up their Christmas dining by making pineapple upside-down cake with a hot buttered rum chaser. Eggnog already has rum in it, but replacing that with coconut rum will add a fun twist. Peruse Beachbum Berry’s books for some wonderful hot Tiki drink recipes. By the way, have you ever tried a Trader Vic’s “Hot Rum Cow”? It’s been on their menu forever. See? Milk plus rum = Tiki… and cozy, cozy, cozy.
Dear readers, this article is not meant to ruffle any feathers. I’m part Norwegian and believe me, if my mother didn’t make her Christmas “Fiskeboller” every year, there would be “helvete”to pay. I’m not saying you should abandon any of the traditions you like, but there’s something really wonderful about creating some new ones that reflect who you are now. And… by writing this article, it is not my intention to offend any of you who are religiously observant. This article is not meant for you, and you know it. So no hate mail, please. There is no room for hate in Tiki. What there IS room for is sharing, creativity and fun.
…and I wish you all a Hau’oli Makahiki Hou (Happy New Year)!
Kari Hendler is a television script supervisor, photographer and writer, who thinks that life is too short, so you really need to celebrate everything.
Article reprinted courtesy of Tiki Magazine where Kari is a regular contributor.