December 1st, 2019
___ Pronounced [MEH-leh Kah-LEE-kee-MAH-kah], this phrase is a Hawaiian greeting meaning “Merry Christmas.”
While it sounds ver-ly much like a foreign language phrase, “Mele Kalikimaka” is a direct phonetical translation of how Hawaiians would say “Merry Christmas.”
Here’s why: The Hawaiian language has only eight consonants — not including /r/ or /s/.
1. The /r/ we use is translated as an /l/’ sound; therefore “Merry” = [MEH-leh]
2. The /s/ we use is translated to a /k/ sound. Therefore “Christmas” =
✦ the first syllable, “Chri-“, containing an /r/ to make /l/ sound — [Kah-LEE]
✦ + an /s/ sound beginning and ending the second syllable, “-stmas,” translated to [kee-MAH-kah.]
The reason “Merry Christmas” does not have its own roots in Hawaiian language is that Hawaiians did not celebrate Christmas until the early 19th century, after Protestant missionaries arrived to teach English religious beliefs and traditions. Before then, native Hawaiians did not celebrate Christmas nor speak of it, as they had not heard of it. The missionaries presented a “Merry Christmas” phrase to translate the English words to Hawaiian speak.
Mele Kalikimaka — can you say it five times fast?
*This recorded song featuring the Hawaiian Christmas greeting, may help: Mele Kalikimaka.
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