Kauai defies holiday commercialism with sustainable Christmas festival

Water bottles, aluminum cans and plastic containers bring Christmas joy to thousands in Kauai

On Dec. 1, “Festival of Lights” will launch its 21st year of sharing Christmas without retail. The Historic County Building, the main government headquarters on Kauai, will open its doors to display top-to-bottom decorations made from recycled and reclaimed materials.

Entirely focused on environmental sustainability, Festival of Lights provides a spirited and fun reminder that the true meaning of Christmas comes from the heart, and not the stores. Every year, thousands of locals and visitors crowd the halls to view Christmas trees, wreathes, ornaments, nativity scenes and other seasonal decorations made from recycled and reclaimed materials such as water bottles, aluminum cans and plastic containers. Several pieces are donated designs from previous visitors inspired from their experience.

Christmas trees are decorated in themes, with the most popular influenced by local culture and sites such as “SPAM,” “Hula Bear,” “Kilauea Lighthouse” and “Princess Kaiulani Peacock.” The nationally-recognized “Aloha Recycled Treasures” tree, which made its debut in 2010 at the U.S. Capitol by invite of the late Hawaii Senator Daniel K. Inouye, is decorated with plastic water bottles. Other recent additions include the “If Can, Can” tree with recycled aluminum cans and the “Lure of the Sea” tree, decorated with embossed recycled aluminum cans and recycled containers. Materials are also gathered out-of-state including S.C.R.A.P. (Scrounger’s Center for Reusable Art Parts) in San Francisco, which led to a dazzling compact disc “CD” tree. Last year, in celebration of the 20th anniversary, visitors were treated to the latest collection of formerly discarded pieces on the “Kauai Tree,” with new pieces that paid tribute to Kauai’s special places including Hanalei Pier, Allerton Garden, Polihale, Fern Grotto and Tunnel of Trees.

Leading the team of art direction is local artist and designer Elizabeth Freeman, whose background spans interior, graphic and magazine design. Her work has been displayed at the Smithsonian and the Museum of Arts and Design in New York. Elizabeth lives on Kauai and teaches and inspires people about her “trash to treasure” artistic vision.

Festival of Lights opens Dec. 1 and continues through Dec. 30 from 6-8 p.m. Friday – Sunday. Also open Christmas Eve. Free admission. Visitors are greeted by trained docents who share the history of the event and reveal the origins of the decorations. Santa and Mrs. Claus are always on-hand and live music is performed. Thousands of lights illuminate both the interior and exterior of the building and surrounding park. http://www.KauaiFestivalOfLights.com

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