Festival of Lights (Hawaii)
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Kauai Festival of Lights was founded in 1996 by artist Elizabeth Freeman to share the joy of the Christmas season through decorations created using recycled materials.
As the Festival of Lights’ Creator and Art Director, Freeman has produced the event to showcase "Kauai-style" decorations crafted by volunteers, as well as the late Auntie Josie Chansky's unique "folk art" creations. Freeman’s most recognized themed trees include Spam, Hula Bear, Kilauea Lighthouse, Peacock and the nationally recognized Aloha Recycled Treasures made from plastic water bottles. Other recent additions include the "If Can, Can" tree with recycled aluminum can ornaments and a dazzling "CD" tree with recycled CDs from S.C.R.A.P. (Scrounger's Center for Reusable Art Parts) in San Francisco, and the "Lure of the Sea" tree, decorated with ornaments of embossed recycled aluminum cans and recycled containers. New in 2015 was the Over the Rainbow Tree, decorated with colorful flowers and butterflies created from recycled aluminum cans and water bottles.
History and background
For nearly 40 years, first on Oahu and then 18 years on Kauai, Auntie Josie opened her home to anyone who wanted to see the Christmas decorations she created using recycled materials that were displayed inside and outside of her home. Auntie Josie’s home became known as “The Christmas House” and generations of families began making it part of their holiday traditions.
Auntie Josie’s husband died in 1996. Out of grief and the sad realization that she did not have the strength to put up all the decorations herself, Auntie Josie held a garage sale. Luckily, the loss of the “Christmas House” to the community was recognized and her entire collection was saved with a multi-thousand dollar purchase by Freeman and donated to the county of Kauai. Freeman organized the first Festival of Lights in 1996, providing a public venue to display the decorations, and continues to run the event with funding by the County of Kauai, Hawaii Tourism Authority, Friends of the Festival of Lights and private businesses and individuals.
In 2006, Auntie Josie was honored by both the Senate and the Office of the Mayor for her 50 years of contribution to Hawaii’s holiday season. The Hawaii House of Representatives had also recognized her work in 1975. In 2006, Auntie Josie was honored with Proclamations by both Senator Hooser of the Hawaii State Legislature and Former Kauai Mayor Baptiste for her 50 years of contribution to Hawaii’s holiday season. A week before Auntie Josie’s passing on February 3, 2009, Kauai Mayor Carvalho also issued a proclamation to Auntie Josie.
Today, Festival of Lights represents about 35 percent of Auntie Josie’s decorations with the remaining pieces designed by Freeman. Freeman presents a collection of Christmas art inspired by her and created with the assistance of local artisans from recycled materials.
More than 5,000 people attend Opening Night at the Historic County Building on the first Friday of December at this free event. Visitors enjoy caroling by the Kauai Chorale and Santa leading a Lighting Countdown of the Historic Park. The doors then officially open for viewing of the interior of the Historic County Building and its illuminated Christmas decorations. Visitors can continue to view the Festival of Lights through Christmas Eve.
Elizabeth Freeman is an artist and designer with a background in interior design, graphic design and magazine design. Her work has been displayed at the Smithsonian and the Museum of Arts and Design in New York. A resident of Kauai for almost 30 years, Freeman conducts regular tutorials with local high schools and civic organizations about the beauty of art and creating trash-to-treasure art pieces from recycled materials.