Tropical Gardening: Christmas in Hawaii is a special and year-round feeling

It is Christmas Eve. It is the season to be jolly, as the old saying goes.

But it is much more than that.


After traveling the world and seeing how many folks live, it seems the Christmas spirit in Hawaii continues all year thanks to the constant reminder that we choose to live aloha. The basic teachings of Jesus, Buddha, Mohammed, Moses and other spiritual leaders all come together here.

Diversity is mostly respected. Faith, hope and love are emphasized in Judeo Christian, Muslim and Hindu ethics. Buddhist teachings reflect this as well, but go one step farther. Some folks might disagree, but as Buddha is quoted, “We are shaped by our thoughts: We become what we think. When the mind is pure, joy follows like a shadow that never leaves.”

Put all this together and we have aloha.

Of course, there are big differences when it come to the traditional ideas of Christmas, with snow, Santa Claus and presents like on the mainland and Europe. In Hawaii, we often see the same activities we might see in July. The surf and beach are still the big attractions. Folks might even take the holidays to catch up on gardening projects.

Some folks miss the snow and the bite of frost in the air. They miss the cold, dark days when all life is dormant. They long for the coziness of an open fireplace and the smell of turkey, ham or roast beef cooking in the kitchen.

But think about it. Most of the customs now associated with Christmas have little to do with the real meaning.

In fact, the very day we celebrate is probably not the actual birth date of Christ. In Europe this particular date was celebrated long before Christ was born. The celebration was associated with the winter solstice and the fact the days were getting longer.

Most of the customs now associated with Christmas go back thousands of years, when the people worshipped pagan gods.

The use of the Christmas trees is thought to have originated in Germany. During the 8th century, a missionary, St. Boniface, was trying to stamp out the rite of sacrificing people to the oak tree.

He led these tree-worshipping people into the forest in the dead of winter to show them the only tree with no cursing stain of blood upon it. This was the evergreen fir, which lives and grows when earth is darkest.

He showed them that the tree pointed upward toward the Christ Child. He told them to take this tree into their homes as a symbol of their newfound faith.

Now let’s look at a couple of other plants we associate with the special holiday.

The holly for thousands of years has had all manner of mystical charms and qualities attributed to it. The use of holly at Christmas was likely to have come from the Teutonic custom of hanging holly in their houses. They did this so the tree sprites might have a warm, safe shelter from winter storms.

The mistletoe originally had nothing to do with Christmas. It was considered sacred by those same tree worshippers because it grew on oaks. To this day in Europe, amulets and rings of mistletoe are worn as an antidote against sickness.

Since we can’t plant mistletoe over the threshold here, we can find joy in gardening. Yuletide gardening will be the top activity for many folks through the holidays, so let’s turn our attention to other indoor plantings.

What to plant depends on conditions under which the plants grow. “Cast-iron” plants that will withstand abuse and adverse conditions such as low light intensity and warm, dry rooms include Aglaonema, Aspidistra, bromeliads, Dracaena, Monstera, Pandanus, Peperomia, Philodendron, Sansevieria and Scindapsus.

Plants that will grow under adverse conditions but need more light and more humidity than those just mentioned are Dieffenbachia, Ficus, palms, Syngonium and Anthurium.

A few of the many other plants that will thrive indoors are African violets, Aspidistra, Norfolk Island pine, Rex begonia, Fittonia, Wandering Jew, jade plant, Asparagus plumosus and many orchids.

Chances are that even the veteran gardener might have some trouble with indoor plants. Now is a good time to check your plants and make corrections. Here are a few tips in diagnosing some common plant ailments.

Brown tips or burned margins of leaves could mean too much fertilizer and plants allowed to dry out temporarily. Yellowing and dropping of leaves hint at overwatering or poor drainage.

Small leaves indicate tight or heavy soil, lack of fertilizer or dry soil. Weak growth or light green to yellow color of leaves might mean either too much light, lack of fertilizer, root rot or possibly root injury. Yellow, wilting or soft growth could come from too much heat or root injury. Small leaves and long internodes could be from too little light or too high temperatures.


Adding as little water and fertilizer as possible to keep the plants healthy and growing contributes to the success of the indoor plants. During cool, dark days, plants absorb much less fertilizer than during warm, sunny weather. Adjust fertilizer applications accordingly.

Remember, growing plants indoors and in the garden can help us connect with nature to find inner peace and aloha.