By Léo Azambuja

Elizabeth Freeman, founder and director of the Festival of Lights, inside the Historic County Building in Lihu‘e. Photo courtesy of Festival of Lights/Ron Kosen

Elizabeth Freeman, founder and director of the Festival of Lights, inside the Historic County Building in Lihu‘e. Photo courtesy of Festival of Lights/Ron Kosen

For the last two decades, the Festival of Lights in Lihu‘e has become part of the local folklore during the holiday season, with its creative and extensive display of Christmas trees and ornaments. And if the inspiration for the festival, the former Christmas House in Kapa‘a, is added to the equation, the tradition spans nearly 40 years.

“It’s really the heart of the holidays on the island, we get people coming from every corner of the island (to see the festival),” said Elizabeth Freeman, the mastermind behind the month-long Christmas festival.

Starting on the first Friday of December, an elaborate display of Christmas lights brightens the Historic County Building and the park in front of it. Inside the 103-year-old building, there is a stunning art installation consisting of dozens of Christmas trees and displays made mostly of recycled materials.

Since 1997, Elizabeth, an artist and a designer, has been meticulously putting together a exhibition she says it helps to strengthen the island’s social fabric. It helps to create community pride and fosters a sense of individual and collective well-being.

Kolotita Fonua points to the flower she created from a recycled water bottle for the Kaua‘i Rainbow Tree at the Festival of Lights. Photo courtesy of Festival of Lights/Ron Kosen

Kolotita Fonua points to the flower she created from a recycled water bottle for the Kaua‘i Rainbow Tree at the Festival of Lights. Photo courtesy of Festival of Lights/Ron Kosen

The festival’s ongoing theme, “Santa’s Gone Kauaian,” reflects a decoration full of island flavor. There’s a Santa paddling a canoe, a Santa surfing, trees decorated with sea creatures, spam cans, tropical flowers, fish, birds and much more.

“When you walk into the County Building, my intention for the space is a transformative experience,” said Elizabeth, adding her goal is to have the people stop at each of the more than 30 Christmas trees, because “each tree is actually a universe,” each one has “an element of surprise.”

A closer look at the ornaments, and you’ll find out almost everything is made out of recyclables. All year, Elizabeth looks for potential materials for her creations. Stripped seedpods become corals, soda cans are reborn as turtles, fish or angels, Slurpee lids and plastic bottles give life to sea urchins and starfish, beer caps turn into jellyfish, salad bowls resurrect as mermaids, and the l