When my kids were little their dad worked 2:00 – 10:00 on Christmas Eve for several years. He worked for an airline and that’s one of the busiest days of the year so there was no getting off to spend the evening with us.

While he was working, I’d make sugar cookie dough and we’d cut out stars and bells and Santa faces and a few other shapes from the dented and banged up cookie cutters I’d used as a girl. Once the cookies were cooked and cooled, I’d move the kitchen table outside to the lanai and we’d do our Christmas magic with frosting and sprinkles and those silver sugar balls that could break a tooth. They were not very pretty cookies. Neither of my boys cared about anything except getting them done and eating as many as possible.

After we cleaned and sprayed down the lanai of all the sugar, I’d haul the table back inside and we’d wrap the cookies we weren’t keeping in individual cellophane bags with twisty ties and load them into a basket decorated for the season.

My boys would wear their brightest aloha shirts and vibrant shorts that didn’t match the shirts. Tinsel leis and rubber slippers competed their look. I’d wear a muumuu and we’d jump into the car and drive over the Pali to the Honolulu Zoo. I’d listen to them tell me it was stinky, but we never missed an animal and when we’d had enough of the zoo,off we’d go to the beach across the street with our cookies.

The tourists were pretty easy to spot. One of my little blondies would grab a cookie and hold it out and say, “Merry Christmas!” If it was a family, each person got their own cookie. People would break into smiles, proclaiming it to be the best treat they’d ever had. It wasn’t, but laughter rang and the season somehow got merrier for all. The joy those ugly cookies brought to people spending Christmas away from home really did make Hawaii seem like Paradise in some cases.

After all the cookies were gone I’d let the kids play in the sand or run and do whatever little boys do and then we’d head over to First Presbyterian Church for the first of two services.

By the time we got home the boys were sunburned and exhausted and ready for bed. Their dad would roll in about 20 minutes after the end of his shift and we’d put out the toys, assemble whatever needed to be put together, and head off to bed in our little overpriced single wall construction house in Kailua.

When we moved here to Oshkosh most of our personal things were lost by the movers. Every box of Christmas decorations and memories is gone. I have very few photos of my children when they were young, including precious photos from our zoo and beach outings. But here’s a picture of them in front of the tacky background from Sears taken around the time we started our Christmas Eve tradition.

My boys are grown and the two grand kids who live here eat only gluten and sugar-free baked goods so it’s been years since I have baked and decorated cookies. But every year I think of my two little boys making and giving away ugly cookies yelling Mele Kalikimaka to the tourists. I think somewhere in Iowa or New York there are families who still talk about the time they went to Hawaii for their vacation and received calories and aloha from two local boys from Kailua.