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Mele doings in Hawaii's historic churches, temples, shrines.

Warm ocean lapping at the beach, trade winds tugging at coconut palms--Christmas in Hawaii just doesn't evoke the same around-the-fire coziness you get in other parts of the West. But what the Islands lack in traditional winter weather they more than make up for in holiday spirit.

You expect hoopla in hotels and big shopping malls, with their flashy decorations and holiday activities. And you'll find doings at parks and community centers. But the most interesting and picturesque places to join holiday celebrations are Island churches, shrines, and temples.

With its large population and ethnic diversity, Oahu has the most impressive array of programs. Along with enjoying such traditional holiday offerings as children's choir concerts, Christmas pageants, and caroling, you can also share Japanese food, see colorful Filipino paroles (star-shaped paper lanterns), and hear the "Hallelujah Chorus" from Handel's Messiah sung in Hawaiian.

Several Buddhist, Christian, and Shinto congregations welcome the New Year with lively ceremonies for good fortune: gong ringing, charm blessing, and rice pounding.

A bonus is that many of Oahu's best programs are held in some of the state's most historic buildings. Ranging from a coral-block replica of a New England church to a delicately carved traditional Shinto shrine, the buildings themselves are well worth a look.

Programs on the following list are the most outstanding or unusual taking place in historic buildings (all but two are more than 50 years old). Times are in the evening unless noted; admission is free (or a donation). At many places, you should arrive early to get a seat. Call to confirm details; the area code is 808.

Although some events are community oriented, most (including Buddhist and Shinto programs) are part of a religious service or ceremony.

In Honolulu

Central Union Church, 1660 S. Beretania Street; 941-0957. Built in 1924, this New England-style church has a tall steeple and portico, but in Hawaiian fashion, the structure's multiple side doors open to broad lawns. Inside, pineapple and palm designs top Corinthian columns.

December 1 at 7:30: annual Messiah performance by the church choir.

December 17 and 18 at 7:30: the 200 boys, age 7 through 13, who make up the Honolulu Boy Choir sing secular, sacred, and Hawaiian songs. Children's hula dancing accompanies some of the Hawaiian music. Expect a large turnout. The choir also performs for the dinner show in the Royal Hawaiian Hotel's Monarch Room December 20, 21, and 23 through 25.

December 24 at 5 and 11: carols-and-candlelight service.

Honpa Hongwanji Mission, 1727 Pali Highway; 536-7044. A rounded stupa atop each end, a central dome, and a ringed spire distinguish this 1918 Indian-style temple, headquarters for the 37 Shin Buddhist Hongwanji temples in Hawaii.

December 31 at 11: usher in the Year of the Tiger by striking the temple gong after a special service. The gong is rung at least 108 times (once for each of a person's imperfections). Then partake of a traditional meal of noodles (soba), fish cakes, and sake or tea.

Izumo Taishakyou Mission, 215 N. Kukui Street; 538-7778. This 1923 Shinto shrine is patterned after the religion's headquarters temple in Japan. The raised wooden structure is set off by a graceful entrance gate (torii).

January 1, midnight to 7 P.M.: Christians and Buddhists also join the line to receive a Shinto New Year's blessing. Some 10,000 people will burn last year's paper charms (wiping the slate clean), wash and dry their hands (symbolizing purification), ring the temple bell (to drive off evil spirits), toss money in a box (as an offering), and clap their hands and bow (in prayer). They also will ask for new blessings, receive new charms, and take a sip of sake. Even if you don't join the line, it's a colorful and festive time to have a look at this striking temple.

Kaumakapili Church, 766 N. King Street; 848-1545. A charming Victorian Gothic building stuccoed to resemble weathered stone, This 1911 church has dark native koa wood pews, pulpit, and organ console.

December 24 at 7:30: candlelight service includes a Christmas play with a Polynesian motif. Program ends with the singing of "Silent Night" in Hawaiian.

Kawaiahao Church, 957 Punchbowl Street; 538-6267. Modeled after New England churches and built of coral blocks in 1842 by King Kamehameha III, this is Oahu's oldest church. It was used for royal ceremonies before Hawaii became a territory, and rear pews of carved koa are still used by descendants of royal families.

December 22 at 4: annual Christmas concert features the combined choirs of two churches singing Hawaiian anthems, carols, and selections from the Messiah--including the "Hallelujah Chorus"--in Hawaiian.

December 24 at 9:30: organ prelude and choir performance before 10 P.M. carols-and-candlelight service.

Korean Christian Church, 1832 Liliha Street; 536-3538. The front of this 47-year-old building was patterned after a Korean palace gate. It is three stories high, with two flared green tile roofs, colorful friezes, and painted wall panels. Sanctuary sides open to the outdoors.

December 22 at 10:30 A.M.: all-music service features two choirs (some singing is in Korean) and costumed children acting out the Nativity. Share refreshments on the front lawn.

Makiki Christian Church, 829 Pensacola Street; 536-6446. Ornamented hip and gable roofs grace this 53-year-old building.

December 1, 8, 15, and 22 at 11 A.M.: the regular Sunday Japanese service (congregation members have a median age of about 75) has a Christmas flavor on these dates, with lightning of Advent candles and caroling in Japanese. After the service, share a simple Japanese lunch in the hall.

December 30 from 8 A.M. to noon: for the new year, Japanese gather to pound sweet, glutinous mochi rice into a thick paste, then eat it with a garnish of fermented soybeans, seaweed, or shredded turnip with a dash of soy sauce. You can watch the colorful pounding process in the yard, then step inside to eat and to see an old-fashioned soba machine at work.

St. Andrew's Cathedral, corner of S. Beretania and Queen Emma streets; 524-2822. Designed by English architects, this classic Gothic revival building was started by Queen Emma in 1867 with stone shipped around Cape Horn from England. Matching sandstone from Oahu's Waianae coast was used for later enlargements.

December 20 at 8: annual concert by the Iolani School chorus and orchestra features 2 hours of varied Christmas music--all sung from memory.

December 24 at 10: candlelight service begins at 11, but the church fills before 10, when the choir begins singing carols.

Elsewhere on Oahu

Hawaii L.D.S. (Mormon) Temple, 55-600 Naniloa Loop, Laie (near Polynesian Cultural Center); 293-5055. Built in 1919 of volcanic rock and concrete, this was the first Mormon temple established outside continental North America. Only Mormons can go in, but visitors can wander among pool and garden terraces outside.

December 1 through December 22: from 7 to 8 each Sunday, different choirs will perform in the visitor center. Programs will include carols in English and songs in Hawaiian and Samoan. Every evening during this period, some 13,000 lights will decorate the gardens--a display worth driving to see.

Waialua United Church of Christ, 67-375 Puuiki Street, Waialua; 637-5934 or 247-3161. One of the last remaining plantation churches, this New England--style frame building with a tall steeple was built in 1941 at Wheeler Air Force Base and moved here in 1968.

December 22 at 7: colorful paroles, made by Filipino church members, cast soft light on the Christmas play performed by Sunday school children. Costumed youngsters bring the Christ child bitter melon, coconut, and bananas instead of traditional gifts. Some carols are in Tagalog or Hawaiian, and the last carol is sung outdoors under a huge umbrella tree.
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Date:Dec 1, 1985
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