Monday, December 7, 2009

Christmas in Hawai'i 1858

A recent Christmas Tree at
Washington Place, Honolulu
My great aunt (sister to my 4x great grandmother) was Mary Lambert Jones. She was born in Boston in 1803, married a sea captain, and removed to Chittenango, New York where her children were born. On April 23, 1837, aboard the bark “Jones” she arrived in Honolulu, Hawaii with her husband, Captain John Dominis, and their little boy, John Owen Dominis. They had left two daughters in New York at school. Her brother-in-law, Robert W. Holt preceded her to Hawaii, but her sister, Ann Marie, had died in Boston, and her own two young daughters died in New York before joining up with the rest of the family.

Captain Dominis was a trader who had traveled from Europe to North America, from Alaska, and to China. He wanted to build the finest house in the Pacific for his wife and family. She wanted a house in the New England style, and he wanted to furnish it with imported pieces from China. Windows, doors and trim work were imported from Boston, from the workshop of a great uncle Enoch Snelling, a North End glazier (married to another Jones sister). In 1846 Capt. Dominis left for a voyage to China to buy her items for the new house, and his ship disappeared. He was never heard from again.

Mrs. Dominis moved into the house in 1847 and, because of her reduced circumstances, she had to rent out rooms to dignitaries and visiting Americans. One boarder, Commissioner Anthony Ten Eyck, suggested the name “Washington Place” for her mansion, since it looked like the first president’s home at Mount Vernon. King Kamehameha III said "it has pleased His Majesty the King to ... command that they retain that name in all time coming." And so the name has remained as Washington Place for Aunt Mary’s house.

In 1862 her son moved his new bride into his mother’s home at Washington Place. Her name was Lydia Kamaka‘eha Paki. After her mother-in-law’s death in 1889, Mrs. John Owen Dominis was also known as Princess Lili’uokalani, who became the Queen and last monarch of Hawai’i in 1891. Washington Place was her home during her monarchy, and since 1921 it has become the home of the Hawaiian Governors. It is now a museum in Honolulu, open to the public for tours.

Washington Place is a much beloved landmark in Honolulu, but it is also famous for being one of the first places where Christmas was celebrated in Hawai’i. The New England missionaries in Hawai’i were descendants of Puritans. In the Calvinist tradition Christmas was not celebrated, especially not with Christmas trees and parties. But Aunt Mary was not a missionary, and she was the daughter of a Welsh immigrant to Boston.  On Christmas Eve in 1858 Mary Dominis brought 100 children to Washington Place to see her Christmas tree and Santa delivered gifts to each child. The Christmas tree was an imported Douglas fir. The children were later sent home and the parents held a grand ball and dinner. The missionaries frowned on her display, but it was the beginning of a Victorian Christmas tradition in Hawaii. Four years later, in 1862, the same year that John Owen Dominis married his royal bride, King Kamehameha IV proclaimed Christmas a national holiday in the Kingdom of Hawai’i. The current curator of Washington Place, Corinne Chun, said that Mary Dominis’s Christmas tree may have been the first Christmas tree in Hawai’i.

In 1863 there was another Victorian era style Christmas celebration at the home of Elizabeth Holt Aldrich, the daughter of Robert W. Holt, and niece of Mary Dominis. It is described in a series of articles written for the Honolulu Star Bulletin named “The Fabulous Holts.” Article number 17 is titled “An Aldrich Christmas” and it outlines how Elizabeth Aldrich had a Christmas tree arranged by building a wooden form and decorating it with maile and fern wreaths. Colored candles, toys and dolls were hung on the tree. There were 18 different dollies dressed in handmade outfits. According to the article “Thirty-eight children and forty adults attended the Aldrich party at 7 p.m. Christmas. The children let out many squeals of delight when the parlor folding doors were opened to display the lighted tree. Elizabeth Aldrich took Puritan Maria Rice to attend Episcopalian Christmas Eve services and the two hour high church service on Christmas day. Maria Rice thought the lighted candles and singing were beautiful.” Maria Rice was the wife of missionary William Harrison Rice who had come to Hawai’i in the ninth missionary company.

I recently received a very fun email from a distant cousin in Hawai’i, a Holt descendant. We were comparing notes on how we celebrated Christmas- she in the warm Pacific and me here in chilly New Hampshire. She said that the cousins and whole family had a large outdoor party, and last year they counted 108 people for dinner, and more arrived for additional celebrating later in the evening. I guess Christmas is a tradition that is still going strong in Hawai’i! Maybe someday I can experience a Hawaiian Christmas!


Jones/Dominis Family Tree

Gen. 1: Owen Jones, born about 1735 in Wales, died 28 February 1798; married to Anne (maiden name unknown) served as a customs inspector for some time in Boston where his daughter, Anne was born in 1769.  My 6th great grandparents.

Gen. 2. Owen Jones, born about 1768 in Wales, died 22 April 1850 in Dorchester, Massachusetts; married on 11 May 1793 at the 2nd Baptist Church in Boston to Elizabeth Lambert, born about 1775 in Boston, died on 6 February 1834 in Boston. Eight children.  My 5th great grandparents.

Gen. 3: Mary Lambert Jones, born 3 August 1803 in Boston, died 25 April 1889 in Honolulu, Hawaii; married on 9 October 1824 in Boston to Captain John Dominis, born in Trieste (now Slovenia) and died in 1846 at sea. Three children.  Mary is my 4th great aunt, sister to my 4th great grandmother, Catherine Plummer (Jones) Younger (about 1799 - 1828).

Gen. 4: Governor John Owen Dominis, born on 10 March 1832 in Chittenango, New York, died on 27 August 1891 at Washington Place, Honolulu, Hawaii; married on 16 September 1862 in Honolulu to Lydia Kamekeha Lili’uokalani, daughter of Caesar Kaluaiku Kapa'akea and Analea Keohokalole, born on 2 September 1838 and died on 11 November 1917 at Washington Place, Honolulu, Hawaii. They had no children. John O. Dominis also had a relationship with Mary Purdy Aimoku, and one son.

Gen. 5: John Owen Aimoku Dominis, born 9 January 1883 in Honolulu, died on 7 July 1917 in Honolulu; married on 27 June 1911 in Honolulu to Sybil Francis McInerny, daughter of Edward Aylett McInerney and Rose Kapuakomela Wond. Three children.



“Hawaiian Annual for 1921” by Thomas G. Thrum, Honolulu, 1920 (see pages 59 – 60 for information on the first Christmas party)

Honolulu Star Bulletin “The Fabulous Holts” (date unknown) Official Website of the Hawai’i Governor’s office  The Washington Place Foundation

See my blog post on July 27, 2009 for more information on the Jones family of Boston

The photo is courtesy of the Hawaiian Star Bulletin, 2002, showing the Christmas Tree at Washington Place for the annual Holiday public tour.


Heather Wilkinson Rojo, "Christmas in Hawai'i 1858", Nutfield Genealogy, posted December 7, 2009,  ( accessed [access date]).


  1. What an interesting story and how exciting to have someone famous in your ancestry. The most famous person I've discovered, thus far, is a many greats grandfather who was one of Hartford, CT founders!

    You have a very interesting blog and I'm bookmarking it for more reading soon!

  2. Strong testimonial of history filling the voids for the utmost famous. What I find most intriguing is the 1st paragraph introducing a lad named John Owens Dominis, son to Capt John Dominis & Mary Lambert Jones. This same Ohana hosted Hawai'i late Monarchy under her Majesty, Queen Lili'uokalani up until annexation to the United States of America. As a Hawaiian genealogy & history advocate; this valued write up of "Washington Place" aka Aunt Mary's home is valid for all who reserves/deserves clarity. Mahalo to Heather Wilkinson Rojo, Dominis/Jones Genealogy records, Hawaiian Star Bulletin, history sources from out of Boston; & Hawaii all together. Fantastic post reflecting on the blossom year of Christmas in Hawai'i-1858 @ Washington Place. Aloha e ~

  3. As usual, Heather, a wonderful post about your Hawaiian ancestry. I thoroughly enjoyed learning about this fascinating piece of history.

    Merry Christmas to you and your Hawaiian cousins!