Hawaii is more than fair at festivals

Moviegoers enjoy an outdoor screening at the Hawaii International Film Festival in Oahu. It’s the biggest annual gathering of Asian-Pacific Rim films.
Moviegoers enjoy an outdoor screening at the Hawaii International Film Festival in Oahu. It’s the biggest annual gathering of Asian-Pacific Rim films.
(Hawaii International Film Festival)

Hawaii loves to celebrate. There are festivals celebrating avocados, mangoes, coffee, craft brew, Chinese New Year, falsetto singing, taro, paniolo (Hawaiian cowboys), slack-key guitar playing and just about everything else you can hear, see or taste in the archipelago that Capt. James Cook called the Sandwich Islands. Come to think of it, the only one missing is a Sandwich Isles Sandwich Festival.

Here is a look at some of the festivals you can attend in the islands throughout the year:

Mele Mei Festival, Oahu. One of the Aloha State’s newest and most exciting festivals is Mele Mei (April 27-May 29), a monthlong celebration of Hawaiian music. More than 20 events take place at venues around Honolulu, including workshops, live concert performances and the 35th annual Na Hoku Hanohano Awards (Hawaii’s Grammys). A hula competition and other activities also are scheduled, as is a Guinness Book of World Records performance by the largest group of ukulele players ever assembled to play a song, led by ukulele virtuoso Jake Shimabukuro.

Maui Onion Festival. The 23rd annual Maui Onion Festival (May 5) takes place at Kaanapali’s Whalers Village. Celebrity chefs and free food samplings, the best Maui onion recipe contest, food and product booths, local music and entertainment continue throughout the day. For the adventurous, there’s a raw Maui onion-eating contest.


Lantern Floating Hawaii, Oahu. On Memorial Day (May 28), join thousands of residents and island visitors at Magic Island at Ala Moana Beach Park near Waikiki to honor deceased ancestors and loved ones. At sundown, more than 3,000 candlelit lanterns are set afloat on the ocean, a traditional Buddhist rite originating in Japan. The moving ceremony is based on the theme “Many Rivers, One Ocean” and honors those who have sacrificed their lives in war, pays respect to ancestors and loved ones who have died and offers prayers for a harmonious and peaceful future.

Maui Film Festival. Movie buffs at the 13th annual Maui Film Festival (June 13-17) can choose from among 35 screenings at multiple venues, including the Celestial Cinema, an open-air, Dolby Digital-equipped theater with a 50-foot-wide screen on the driving range at the Wailea Gold and Emerald golf courses. Culinary events, including a Taste of Chocolate at the Four Seasons Wailea, also are on the bill.

Hawaii Island Festival, Big Island. This monthlong celebration of Big Island aloha (Aug. 25-Sept. 28) takes place in various locations around the island. Two unique events are the Uncle Kindy Sproat Falsetto Contest and the Waimea Paniolo Parade and Hoolaulea, where horses and riders decked out in colorful flower leis ride the streets of one of Hawaii’s only remaining cowboy towns.

Aloha Festivals, all islands. The granddaddy of all festivals in Hawaii is the Aloha Festivals (Sept. 1-24), which began in 1946 as Aloha Week. Celebrating and perpetuating the traditions and customs of Hawaii, events nowadays take place on all islands, although those in Waikiki are the best attended. The festivals kick off with a night of traditional chanting and hula. On Sept. 15, a colorful procession of horseback riders, extravagant floats with cascades of Hawaiian flowers, hula groups and marching bands proceeds through Waikiki to the delight of onlookers.

Hawaii Food & Wine Festival, Oahu. Hot on the heels of a successful inaugural celebration, the 2012 Hawaii Food & Wine Festival (Sept. 6-9) is set to be bigger and better with more events and, of course, more food and wine. Held at several participating Waikiki hotels and featuring close to 50 acclaimed master chefs from the United States, Singapore, Japan, Korea, Philippines and Australia, this destination festival gives food and wine enthusiasts innovative Pacific Rim cooking, with an emphasis on Hawaii.

Hawaii International Film Festival, Oahu. Now 32 years old and the biggest film festival in Hawaii, this event (Oct. 11-21) at theaters throughout Oahu showcases more than 250 films annually. More than 80,000 people show up to watch the biggest gathering of Asian-Pacific Rim films anywhere.

Kona Coffee Cultural Festival, Big Island. Billed as the “oldest food festival” in Hawaii, the 42nd annual Kona Coffee Cultural Festival takes place over a 10-day period (Nov. 2-11) at various Big Island locations. Celebrating the bean that has sustained Kona’s agricultural community for more than 185 years, this popular festival recognizes the accomplishments of Kona coffee pioneers, farmers and artisans with a parade, tasting opportunities, coffee farm tours, a coffee-themed art exhibit, seminars, a barista competition and even a bowling tournament.

Merrie Monarch Festival, Big Island. The most renowned of all Hawaii’s festivals is held in Hilo each April. Begun in 1964, the Merrie Monarch Festival (named in honor of King David Kalakaua, Hawaii’s Merrie Monarch, 1874-91) brings together practitioners of ancient and modern hula for a weeklong celebration. The highlight of the week takes place Friday night, with the Group Hula Kahiko competition, where the most accomplished dance groups perform. (Dates for 2013 have not yet been announced.)


For information on these and other festivals, go to