Festival of Lights — Continuing through Dec. 24

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Festival of Lights — Continuing through Dec. 24

The Clauses and the Festival of Lights lady, 2011. L-R: Michael Patton as Santa; Elizabeth Freeman, festival head; and Jewels Tidwell as Mrs. Claus. Photo by Danny Hashimoto

The Clauses and the Festival of Lights lady, 2011. L-R: Michael Patton as Santa; Elizabeth Freeman, festival head; and Jewels Tidwell as Mrs. Claus. Cover photo by Danny Hashimoto

Festival of Lights

Juice Turns On Friday, Dec. 7

by Anne E. O’Malley

Aunty Josie Chansky’s Christmas folk art ornaments and decorations made from recyclable materials inspired Kilauea resident Elizabeth Freeman to initiate the Festival of Lights, now in its 16th year. It kicks off on Friday, December 7 at 6 p.m.

Hundreds of wee bulbs will light up the trees on the lawn in front of the Historic Kaua`i County building. The Kaua`i Chorale will sing with vigor, keiki of Halau Ka Lei Kukui Hi’ilani, under the direction of Kumu Leihi’ilani Kirkpatrick will dance with sass, and Santa will bounce in with a Ho! Ho! Ho!

The annual Lights on Rice parade will start at 6:30 p.m., ending at the County Building. Inside is a treasure trove of historic ornaments augmented each year by new creations made in an annual Santa’s workshop. It’s a tribute to Chansky’s belief that trash isn’t trash until you throw it away.

In addition to the dates listed below, on Sunday, Dec. 9, the Kapa`a Middle School Choir and Ukulele band under the direction of Mary Lardizabal will make a special appearance.

And talk about aloha from Kaua`i — Freeman received a call from a New Jersey Hurricane Sandy survivor who will be here on a cruise on Thursday, Dec. 13. She’d read about the Festival of Lights and didn’t want to miss it.

Can Kaua`i folks relate to hurricanes, o wat?

Says Freeman, “I said I’d open it just for her” — and the cruise passengers and of course, any residents who read this and show up and want to hug a Sandy survivor. Should be some hoopla surrounding this date.

The late Aunty Josie Chansky and Elizabeth Freeman, Festival of Lights founder and art-director. Photo by Tim DeLaVega

The late Aunty Josie Chansky and Elizabeth Freeman, Festival of Lights founder and art-director. Photo by Tim DeLaVega

Aunty Josie Chansky started it all

 

Chansky’s collection grew because she couldn’t help herself. From the late 1950s onward, she was compelled to turn trash into Christmas treasure and, with her husband, Joe Chansky, turn their home into a holiday spectacle of light outside and Josie’s folk art inside. First on O`ahu and then later in Kapa`a, thousands of people stood outside their home each year, enjoying the lights, ooh-ing and ah-ing and waiting to see the treasures inside.

When Freeman’s son was a keiki, the pair were among the Kapa`a house admirers, and Freeman never forgot the light in her son’s eyes as he gazed on the sight.

On Friday, December 7, for the 16th year, Chansky’s spectacular collection that began with throw-away items like IBM punch cards and exhausted flash cubes (remember them?) crafted into imaginative decorations and sprayed gold, goes on display.

And as well, new ornaments, made from recycled aluminum cans, will adorn the 9-ft. tree to the theme of “If Can, Can.”

 

"If Can, Can" tree ornament made from Arizona Green Tea and Passion-Orange cans. Photo courtesy of Festival of Lights

“If Can, Can” tree ornament made from Arizona Green Tea and Passion-Orange cans. Photo courtesy of Festival of Lights

When to Visit

 

The Historic Kaua`i County Building hosts the Festival of Lights through the month of December. The building is open weekends with Santa and Mrs. Claus in residence, Friday through Sunday, from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m., starting Friday, Dec. 7 and continuing through Dec. 24.

On Friday, Dec. 7, starting at 6 p.m. in front of the Historic Kaua`i County Building, the festival features the Kaua`i Chorale, the keiki of Halau Ka Lei Kukui Hi`ilani and Santa (Ron Horoshko) leading the lighting countdown.

On Sunday, Dec. 9, from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m., the Kapa`a Middle School Choir and Ukulele band under the direction of Mary Lardizabal will make a special appearance.

On Thursday, Dec. 13, the building will be open from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. especially for cruise guests, and of course, whomever appears.

For more information, visit online at http://www.kauaifestivaloflights.com; email friends@thefestivaloflights.info; or call 808-639-8564.

The Festival of Lights is sponsored by the Hawai`I Tourism Authority, the County of Kaua`i and Housemart Ace Hardware and Crafts.

 

How Chansky got hooked

 

Mighty oaks from little acorns grow. In the case of the Chanskys, the acorn began sprouting over a half century ago on O`ahu, when the Chanskys just wanted to decorate trees and shrubs outside their home for the holidays.

“I started to decorate, not realizing I would come to a point where I would make my own decorations the following year,” Chansky told this writer several years ago, “I started to pick up things that were discarded and I put them together and before you know it, every piece was such a beautiful thing and had such beautiful lights.”

Chansky would see something on the ground and tell herself it was rubbish, but her creative self said no, it’s treasure, so she’d pick it up and visualize what she was going to do with it.

“By the time I was done, it turned out to be a beautiful piece,” she said. “I thought the outside was so nice, why not do the inside?”

She made chandeliers from wire coat hangers. She transformed egg cartons, condiment cups, pull tabs from soft drink cans, flash cubes and more into wreaths and tree and table decorations.

Chansky said, “By the time we finished and turned the lights on, people would be knocking at the door,

[saying] ‘May we come in?’”

They came in twos and threes, and before long, thousands were coming to see the Chansky’s fabulous decorations.

“Every year, I would add on and add on, and my husband would say, ‘You don’t know when to stop,’” said Chansky. “I said we’re doing this for the love of God and the joy it brings to children’s eyes and faces, so I went on and on, and we moved back to Kaua`i and continued.”

Egg carton wreath by Aunty Josie Chansky. 2001 archival photo by Anne E. O'Malley

Egg carton wreath by Aunty Josie Chansky. 2001 archival photo by Anne E. O’Malley

Chansky’s collection almost disappeared

 

After Chansky’s husband died, she stopped adding to the collection that is now in the county’s hands.

It was fun, she said, and they did it “for the love of God and children. We didn’t get tired and enjoyed every moment of it and when we turned on the light, oh, what a beautiful sight.

“Some people would come special just overnight [from O`ahu] to see my decorations over here.”

Now you can see it, too. Through December 24, the Kaua`i Historic County building will be open Fridays through Sundays from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. to view the Chansky collection and visit with Santa and Mrs. Claus.

A collection for the people

 

Tending the collection behind the scenes is Elizabeth Freeman, who early on discovered Chansky’s treasures.

In 1996, Freeman ran into Aunty Josie at the Big Save in Kapa’a, when Josie shared that her husband Joe had passed away and that she was no longer going to put up her display and in fact, she was going to sell it all at an upcoming garage sale.

Saddened by the potential loss of such a splendid Kaua`i tradition, Freeman went to that sale with the intention of buying much of the collection and donating it to the County. She rescued a large part of the collection from oblivion — to the tune of several thousand dollars.

Freeman took the collection to then-Mayor Maryanne Kusaka, telling her, “These belong to the people.” With support from the County Council, the Historic County Building was chosen as the perfect site for the display.

Mayor Kusaka asked Freeman if she would put up the display, a task Freeman took to heart. As an artist, designer and art director, Freeman lent her talent and vision to creating the Festival of Lights and 16 years later it’s become a much-loved Kaua`i tradition all its own.

In 2003, a volunteer committee founded Friends of the Festival of Lights to help perpetuate the festival for generations to come.

Seed pod centerpiece by Aunty Josie Chansky. 2001 archival photo by Anne E. O'Malley

Seed pod centerpiece by Aunty Josie Chansky. 2001 archival photo by Anne E. O’Malley

Genuine folk art

 

Says Freeman, who considers the Chansky collection Folk Art, “It’s based on the fact that I’ve visited the Smithsonian Folk Art collection and other Folk Art collections across the country where I’ve seen very high levels of workmanship and craftsmanship.  One of my goals is to get one of Mrs. Chansky’s pieces into the Smithsonian; a long-term goal would be to do a book on this.”

The collection does not remain static. Much like museum restoration, it must be refreshed and repaired, with volunteers investing time and talent, and since the Festival of Lights opened in 1997, Freeman has invited island artisans to create new decorations in the Aunty Josie style of trash to treasure.

In 2009, Freeman had the idea of creating ornaments out of recycled plastic water bottles, made a dozen samples and took the idea to the Academy of Hospitality & Tourism (AOHT) at Kaua`i High School.

“They ran with the idea and made beautiful decorations called Aloha Recycled Treasures that in 2010 adorned the tree in Sen. Daniel Inouye’s office in Washington, D.C. The ornaments returned home and in 2011 appeared for the first time on the nine-foot featured tree inside the Historic County Building.”

Decorations this year reflect the “If Can, Can” theme. The idea came about when, in early 2012, Freeman was watching the NBA playoffs and her mind turned to the new theme she’d need to come up with to fashion ornaments for this year’s 9-foot tree.

“I couldn’t just watch the game, so I started working on cans, something to do when the plays weren’t going the way I wanted,” she says.

Next thing, she was calling for colorful aluminum cans to be harvested and saved by the Lihu`e Bowling Center, Kaua`i Community Recycling Services, the Kaua`i High AOHT students and many friends.

Of, by and for the people of Kaua`i

 

As 16 years have flown by, the festival has grown and absorbed more and more volunteers. Volunteers from the Kaua`i Community Correctional Center have participated over the years, some of them visiting the festival after they’ve done their time.

“All of the volunteers we get from KCCC are from the Lifetime Stance program,” says Freeman. “They’re all terrific gentlemen.”

Says Pam Hoffman, a festival volunteer for a decade, “It’s been an honor to get to know them over the years. Most are just really searching.”

The support from individuals and groups spreads. A grant writer has stepped forward, someone else is shadowing her this year to learn the routine.

The Kapa`a High School Interact Club is onboard. The Lihu`e Business Association, Kaua`i United Way and more all have fingers in the pie, from adopting a night or lending docents and more.

Sixteen years into it, Freeman still bubbles over when talking about the Festival of Lights and Aunty Josie Chansky, who started it all.

“I say the County park is the appetizer. The main course is inside the building — the show is inside, get dessert inside. Don’t miss it.

“This is about the love — lights, love and magic — that’s what’s inside.”

When to Visit

 

The Historic Kaua`i County Building hosts the Festival of Lights through the month of December. The building is open weekends with Santa and Mrs. Claus in residence, Friday through Sunday, from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m., starting Friday, Dec. 7 and continuing through Dec. 24.

On Friday, Dec. 7, starting at 6 p.m. in front of the Historic Kaua`i County Building, the festival features the Kaua`i Chorale, the keiki of Halau Ka Lei Kukui Hi`ilani and Santa (Ron Horoshko) leading the lighting countdown.

On Sunday, Dec. 9, from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m., the Kapa`a Middle School Choir and Ukulele band under the direction of Mary Lardizabal will make a special appearance.

On Thursday, Dec. 13, the building will be open from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. especially for cruise guests, and of course, whomever appears.

For more information, visit online at http://www.kauaifestivaloflights.com; email friends@thefestivaloflights.info; or call 808-639-8564.

The Festival of Lights is sponsored by the Hawai`I Tourism Authority, the County of Kaua`i and Housemart Ace Hardware and Crafts.

By | 2016-11-10T05:42:31+00:00 December 6th, 2012|0 Comments

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