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Poi for Thanksgiving

Nov 22, 2017

Four Unique Ways Hawai'i Celebrates Thanksgiving

Whether it's holding a sprawling family luau for a baby's first birthday, giving lei to a loved one on May Day, or dancing hula at a wedding, we do things a little different around here.

As one of the world's great melting pots, Hawai'i's collective culture is a wonderful hodgepodge of different traditions. And just as you might expect, we have our own ways of celebrating Thanksgiving. Below, we've highlighted four unique ways that the people of Hawai'i ring in Turkey Day.

We Cook Our Turkeys In An Imu

In dinner tables across the Islands, you'll still find that turkeys are king. However, within many families, it's a tradition to cook a turkey in an imu, or underground oven. Traditionally, Native Hawaiians used an imu to cook an array of meats and vegetables that would be served at a luau. First, a large hole is dug in the ground and then layered with volcanic rocks and kiawe wood that's been roasting in a fire. Then, layers of wet banana leaves and stumps are draped over the red-hot rocks before meat (in this instance, turkey) is cooked underground for hours. While building out and slow-cooking a turkey in an imu is undoubtedly laborious, the end result is nothing short of divine: dripping, smokey, tender turkey that falls right of the bone. Now, would you be so kind as to please pass the Okinawan sweet potatoes?

We Surf On Thanksgiving

While our counterparts on the Mainland may be draped in sweaters, shawls, and the odd stole, we're happily clad in our boardshorts in bikinis, enjoying prime surf season on the North Shore. Beginning in early November, the world-famous lineups like Pipeline, Sunset, and Waimea and other north-facing reefs come to life as surfers across the state light up with joy. With the day off work, many of us either rise with the sun for a crack-of-the-morning dawn patrol session or sneak away from the kitchen for a surf session with friends. And what better way to work up an appetite for dinner than by linking up a few good set waves with some of your friends?

We Go Waaay Back With Thanksgiving...For Real, Brah!

Hawai'i may have become an official US state in 1959, but we've been enjoying the American holiday for decades. In fact, as early as 1849, Kamehameha III marked December 31st as a national holiday for Thanksgiving as a means to create better relations with the United States. If you're wondering why the king chose the end of December, according to Hawaii Magazine, it was because "Hawaii already had a holiday, called La Kuokoa, at the end of the month." It wasn't until 1864, during the darkest days of the Civil War, that President Lincoln officially marked the holiday in the US.

We Feast On Poi, Sashimi, Laulau, And Turkey

Thanksgiving, despite what you may think, hasn't always been about eating turkeys—even on the mainland. Historians have shown us that the original pilgrims and Native Americans slurped up eels, venison, and of course plenty of passenger pigeons on the first Thanksgiving. It wasn't until the mid 19th century that turkey came into prominence as the bird was both affordable (compared to other meats) and could feed large groups. And while we may love turkey as much as anyone, our Thanksgiving spread often includes bright-red slabs of ahi, mounds of gooey Hanalei poi (yes, we have our preference), juicy laulau, and fresh poke. Whether you were the pilgrims sitting down with the native Americans in Virginia in the 17th century or here in Hawai'i today, Thanksgiving has never really been about the dishes served. It's about connecting, breaking bread, laughing, and sharing. Because at the end of the day it's not about what's on the table, it's about who's sitting at it.

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