Ethan Tweedie - Parker Ranch Christmas Tree

Photo courtesy Ethan Tweedie

The Holiday Season is such a special time in Waimea; it’s hard to imagine that it wasn’t always that way. Christmas actually came to Hawai‘i with the early missionaries in the 1800’s, who observed the religious occasion quietly. Almost 100 years later, in the 1920’s, Imiola Church displayed a manger for the first time, and not long after, Parker Ranch began one of its most beloved traditions, an epic Christmas party for everyone in town. Many memories of Christmas Past are written in this wonderful Waimea Gazette article from 1997, by Nancy Pi‘ianaia.

The event took place a Barbara Hall (now Parker School), a recreation and music center built by A. W. Carter and named for his daughter Barbara. Community nonprofit Friends of the Future captured some of those memories in its oral histories book, Paniolo House Stories:

“The event featured a huge, elaborately decorated Christmas tree and gifts for all of the children of Waimea. Brown paper bags contained apples, oranges, and nuts. Everyone looked forward to an evening of songs and the appearance of Santa Claus. With few cars, families walked from all over town to the hall, carrying their kerosene lanterns for light. Interviewees all fondly remembered the Christmas parties with bright lights, gifts, food, and songs. The ice cream served to all the children was one of the fondest memories. Parker Ranch families received additional gifts, including the famous Parker Ranch turkeys caught up at Waiki‘i and on the Mana Road.”

The holiday party took a pause during the World War II years, although many local families adopted solidiers into their homes for the day. After 1945, the tradition was revived at Barbara Hall (which had been the USO Club), and later at the historic Parker Home, Puuopelu.

In 1962, Richard Smart added to the festive occasion, by lighting the 100-year-old Cook Pine tree in front of Puuopelu, and inviting everyone for hot chocolate and cookies. The following year, Waimea town presented their first annual Christmas Parade, the second oldest in the state.

Over the years, the parade has grown and evolved into an evening event, welcoming 1,100 participants and 12,000 spectators. The Twilight Parade, according to last year’s organizers, features “a lighted brigade of trucks of all sizes and shapes – from farm and ranch vehicles to giant construction and hauling rigs, cement mixers, telephone and electric company trucks, twinkling buses and trolleys.” Its focus is on community, particularly in supporting the Big Island Giving Tree, an all-volunteer group that helps working families, kupuna and keiki.

To help keep everyone safe in 2020, the 60th Annual parade is going virtual, and everyone across the islands and around the world is invited to join in!