Behind the Seams: Hawaiian Christmas 40th Anniversary

Posted on October 04, 2023

Behind the Seams: Hawaiian Christmas 40th Anniversary
In celebration of the 40th Anniversary of Hawaiian Christmas, we sat down with Vivian, our resident Hawaiian Christmas designer, to discuss the tradition of this beloved print, first released in 1983, and learn more about the creation of this year’s festive anniversary design.

How did the idea for Hawaiian Christmas come about? 
In the early 80s, Tim McCullough, our former President and son of brand co-founder Reyn McCullough, and his wife attended a conference and noticed all of the ladies had festive Alohawear on but that the men were dressed in traditional business attire because there was nothing holiday-themed for them to wear. Tim then had a lightbulb moment, and the idea for the first Hawaiian Christmas was born and released in 1983. Hawaiian Christmas was an instant success, and Tim decided to make it an annual print, each with a unique design so that our customers could collect the limited-edition release each year – and the rest, as they say, is history.

Hawaiian Christmas BookReyn Spooner Mele Kalikimaka Book containing every Hawaiian Christmas print through the years

How many Hawaiian Christmas prints have you designed?
24, including this year’s 40th Anniversary print.

Vivian paintingVivian painting Hawaiian Christmas designs

Tell us more about your design process for Hawaiian Christmas 40th Anniversary. 
We were looking for a different style of border layout and decided on the interlocking diamond-shaped border from Hawaiian Christmas 1984 (the 2nd Hawaiian Christmas print).

Once the border layout was determined, Doug (our Creative Director) and I had to decide the best motifs to place inside the borders. Several versions were created with a simple white leafy lei, a green maile lei with red Christmas berries and a more intricate border with hibiscus, anthurium and poinsettia flowers, holly leaves, and berries, mistletoe, wreaths, candles, candy canes, and bells – which is the final version we chose, which we colored up in red and green.  

The next step was determining how many scenes would be placed in the diamond shapes.  We decided on 11, which meant that approximately half of the spaces formed by the diamond borders would have a scene, and the rest would be empty with just the ground color.  It took several attempts to create the final scenes, which, once selected, formed an aesthetic and meaningful balance to convey the Hawaiian spirit for this traditional holiday.

1984 print2023 print

What makes the 40th-anniversary print so special/unique? 
The border layout for this 40th print turned out to be the most unique among the prior prints, and many of the scenes have a fresh new look. The Christmas nene goose is the only motif that continues to be a must-have in this series.  Also, we have included the “Mele Kalikimaka” Hawaiian greeting since 1992, and the year, which is sometimes easily seen, and other times is camouflaged to create a “treasure hunt” like looking for Waldo.

When it comes to Hawaiian Christmas designs, what has changed throughout the past 40 years, and what has stayed the same? 
The early designs were mostly structured border-type layouts, but in the past seven years or so, we have done more open scenic prints.  Also, the motifs were more traditional in the earlier years, except for the nene goose.  Slowly, in the 90s, there was a transition of combining both traditional motifs with a bit of Hawaiiana, for example, adding in Hawaiian quilt patterns that looked like Americana quilting and, of course, “Mele Kalikimaka.”

From 2008-2010, we went back to the traditional Christmas designs. We pulled back from the Hawaiiana look at the advice of our salespeople on the mainland, who wanted a more classic Christmas feel, but from 2011 on, we’ve focused on bringing back the Hawaiiana elements – after all, the print is called Hawaiian Christmas!

 Vintage photos from early Hawaiian Christmas ads 

Do you have a favorite design?
I always liked 1992 for the balance of traditional and Hawaiiana motifs and the teal background color.

I liked 2010 for the different diagonal layout and Christmas card feel, 2011 for the Aloha vibes, and 2017, which is the only one I was able to art-directed myself. 

I also love how 2019 and 2021 told stories about Santa’s time off in Hawai’i.

Hawaiian Christmas print collage

What makes this print such a collector’s item, and why do you think it connects with people so much? 

For one thing, this must be most people’s favorite holiday.  Each year’s shirt is special, and the collector has fun wearing the latest print to all the holiday events. Even the shyest know that they will draw some attention and will ultimately have a good time at parties when they wear Hawaiian Christmas

If anyone is inclined to collect something, why not our Hawaiian Christmas shirts, which are original, well thought-out, tell stories, and embody the spirit of the season. Plus, I believe that we are the only manufacturer who makes these collectibles, and once you start collecting them, how can you stop?  Truthfully, when I’m working on these designs and imagining the stories to tell, I get so wrapped up in the story that I have to remind myself that Santa is not a real person… or is he??

Hawaiian Christmas CollectorsHawaiian Christmas Spooner collectors 

What is your favorite part of the holidays and your favorite holiday tradition? 
Being born and raised on the Big Island as part of a big clan of Japanese relatives, I cherished the family get-togethers and traditional Japanese foods, which were a must, especially for the New Year, and I’ve tried to carry those customs over to my own family and new relatives. 

I miss watching my grandparents pound their own rice for mochi-making, helping make the mochi and then eating them!