The Story Of Mele Kalikimaka

The Story Of Mele Kalikimaka

Ever wonder how this Christmas time standard came to be?

Jake VP.
Jake VP.
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At this point in the year, it is common to begin arguing with friends and family over whether or not it is a sane choice to be listening to Christmas music. Regardless of where you fall on this spectrum, one song has always stood out to me and has probably been a mystery to you as well. "Mele Kalikimaka," sung by the very embodiment of Christmas Music, at least to me, Bing Crosby.

In a world where I both experienced, and listened to a "Winter Wonderland" every Christmas, a song about sunny beaches on December 25th has always stuck out like a sore thumb. So I thought I would dive into why and how it came to exist.

For one thing "Mele Kalikimaka" quite literally is Hawaii's way of saying Merry Christmas. Mele Kalikimaka is the closest way of saying Merry Christmas in Hawaiian. For one thing, Hawaiian doesn't have an "r", which is how "Merry" goes to "Mele". "Christmas" gets a little more complicated. "C" to "K" isn't too crazy, and the rest can be pieced together with this:

The only fricative is /h/. So what should they use for /s/? Well … it's sometimes /h/ and sometimes /k/. Thus the English word crease might be rendered as kaliki or kalihi. Then there are the extra vowels. That, of course, is because Hawaiian doesn't allow consonant clusters — so that /krɪ/ becomes /kali/ — or syllable-final consonants — so that /mas/ becomes /maka/.

By the way, a "fricative" is just "a consonant sound, such as English f or v, produced by bringing the mouth into position to block the passage of the airstream, but not making a complete closure, so that air moving through the mouth generates audible friction."

Okay, so now we know how the song got its title, what about the rest of the story? Well, the song was written in 1949, by Robert Alex Anderson which means it was written a full decade before Hawaii became a state in 1959!

Sadly a lot of the information I was hoping to find has been hard to get a hold of, so I'm depending on Wikipedia more than I'd like. Robert Alex Anderson, a writer of Mele Kalikimaka, was born in Hawaii, graduated from Cornell, and although he was a successful businessman, he also had a good run of writing songs, and IMDB gives him 26 songwriting credits.

So why did Bing Crosby pick to sing Mele Kalikimaka? And a great many other Hawaiian songs? Well, "A Broadway show called Bird of Paradise introduced Hawaiian music to many Americans in 1912 and the Panama–Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco followed in 1915; one year later, Hawaiian music sold more recordings than any other style in the country." Bing Crosby's own introduction may have been "in 1917, Crosby took a summer job as property boy at Spokane's "Auditorium," where he witnessed some of the finest acts of the day, including Al Jolson, who held him spellbound with ad-libbing and parodies of Hawaiian songs". Then, as Bing Crosby began to build his career, Hawaii grew in fame as well.

After the Attack on Pearl Harbor brought the US into World War Two, Crosby would put his talents to use in helping keep up the morale of US troops and would do well. "In a poll of U.S. troops at the close of World War II, Crosby topped the list as the person who had done the most for G.I. morale, ahead of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, General Dwight Eisenhower, and Bob Hope." The war also had an effect on Hawaiian music, "the influx of thousands of American servicemen into Hawaii during World War 2 created a demand for both popular swing rhythm and country sounds. The western swing style, popular on the mainland since the 1930s, employed the steel guitar (the steel guitar which originated in Hawaii) as a key element and was, therefore, a natural evolution."

All of this, a young singer hearing a new style, a language re-interpreting a common phrase, World War Two, all played a role in the creation of one of the many Christmas songs we hear on the radio today.

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The True Meaning Of Christmas And Gift Giving

Preparing for Christmas should be more about preparing the heart and less about the gifts.
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What many people think of when they think of Christmas preparations are the lists of presents they have to buy, the decorations they have to put up, the cookies they have to bake, and the cleaning they have to do. Although those things have become cultural staples for the holiday, they can sometimes conceal the real reason for the season. The Advent season is more about a preparation of the heart than a preparation of the hearth. In some ways, our society seems to be getting things backwards. This is a time of preparation for Christ's coming, but sometimes it seems like instead we are getting wrapped up in all the wrapping paper and consumed by the consumerism.

Why do we even give each other Christmas gifts in the first place? The custom of giving Christmas presents to one another comes from the example of the wise men, who traveled a long and arduous journey in order to present Christ with gifts to honor and adore him. Gift-giving is a symbol of love. During Christmas, it should remind us of the gift of Christ that we were given 2000 years ago and are continually given each and every day. These gifts symbolize our need to give the gift of Christ to others, as well as our need to receive him from others. However, the problem with giving gifts on Christmas is that the focus becomes on the gift itself, rather than on the gift we are celebrating–Jesus Christ. We get excited for Christmas, more often because of the excitement from opening gifts than from the joy that comes from celebrating the gift of our Savior.

The gift-giving custom has gotten way out of hand. Each year, the U.S. spends hundreds of billions of dollars on Christmas gifts, and I, too, am certainly a contributor to that number. We feel this need to participate in the practice because it is expected of us. Plus, it is difficult to deny the excitement of wanting to see others' desires fulfilled, while also satisfying your own. In the end, though, it is only surface-level. The happiness does not last. The presents are opened, and soon enough, the excitement and fulfillment fade, and next year, we only have new things we want in order to feel "fulfilled." The only thing that can truly fulfill us is Jesus Christ himself!

So what if instead of focusing on the presents we all focused on what will last, on something that will bring us all a deeper fulfillment? What if we all gave a gift to Jesus, instead, out of a grateful heart for the gift of himself that he has given us? What if we all committed to sacrifice a little bit more to give some time to others by volunteering more, perhaps at a soup kitchen or visiting the elderly? What if, instead of spending all that money on gifts for ourselves, we asked people to donate to a good cause to help someone who is in need? If we all decided to do this, just imagine how beautiful the world could be, filled with love that points toward everlasting joy! For Jesus says, "Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me"(Matthew 25:40). In giving ourselves to others, we are letting Christ reach out to those around us and are celebrating his coming, not only 2000 years ago but also today, in our own lives and within our own hearts.

So next time someone starts to ask you about your Christmas preparations, think about your heart. Is your heart prepared? Is there room in your heart to give to others, not materially, but spiritually, in a way that will lead them to greater fulfillment? Step aside from the presents, and take the time to draw near to adore the true gift of Christmas in beautiful thanksgiving.

May your heart be filled with the joy that can only come from him this holiday season, and may your heart be prepared so as to be able to let him give himself to others through you.

Merry Christmas!




Cover Image Credit: Pinterest

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I'm Keeping My Christmas Tree Up All Winter And There's Nothing You Can Do About It

It's the WINTER Season... ;-)

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I think that my tree would not be considered Christmas-y if the ornaments are taken off and the lights are kept on. I think to just looks wintry. I am also keeping up decorations that say "let it snow", and I am keeping up any snowman without holly berries or presents in their hands.

The tree looks wintry in my opinion. It looks pretty with the lights and brings the room together. It gives off a warm ambiance, unlike that of fluorescent lighting.

I've taken all ornaments off except for gold snowflakes and I've left the silver tinsel garland on as well as the lights. It looks wintry to me still. I will probably be taking the whole tree down by the end of this month to prepare for Valentine's Day decorating. (Yes, I pretty much decorate my apartment for every holiday—sue me).

There's nothing like coming downstairs and seeing those lights sparkling.

Or coming inside from a dreary, rainy day outside and seeing them light up the room in a calm, warm, and comforting glow.

Or having a bad day, looking up, and seeing them shine.

It sort of makes me upset when I come downstairs and see that someone has unplugged them, to be honest.

I guess they don't see it as I do.

Pretty, twinkling lights forever!

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