Festival of Lights on Kauai

Looking for some holiday fun this December on Kauai? Check out the Festival of Lights, which started as one woman’s hobby of Christmas eco-crafting 51 years ago and has grown into a production so complex that it requires thousands of volunteer hours and private and public funding.

As the Festival of Lights’ Creator and Art Director, Elizabeth Freeman has produced the event for 18 years to showcase “Kauai-style” decorations crafted by volunteers, as well as the late Auntie Josie’s unique folk art creations.

Some of Elizabeth’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. 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, Tunnel of Trees and more.

A bit of history…

It all started more than 50 years ago by “Auntie” Josie Chansky, a folk artist born and raised on Kauai. It is because of her art and contribution to the people of the islands that Festival of Lights was created by artist Elizabeth Freeman. For nearly 40 years, first on Oahu and then 18 years on Kauai, Auntie Josie opened her home to neighbors, strangers, tourists – everyone and anyone. People just started showing up on her lawn and then at her door. They wanted to see all the Christmas folk art decorations that she created and displayed on the outside and inside of her home. Auntie Josie’s home became known as “The Christmas House.” Generations of families began making “The Christmas House” part of their holiday traditions.

Auntie Josie’s husband passed away 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 “The Christmas House” to the community was recognized and her entire collection was saved with a multi-thousand dollar purchase by Elizabeth Freeman and donated to the County of Kauai. Elizabeth 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 Hawai’i’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 Elizabeth. She relies on fantastic volunteers to make the ornaments based on her samples and with her materials.


Historic County Building

4396 Rice Street, Lihue, Kauai, Hawaii 96766


Opening Night: Friday, December 1, 2017

Last night: December 30, 2017

Hours: Friday-Sunday, 6:00-8:00 p.m.

Mimi Towle

Mimi Towle has been the editor of Marin Magazine for over a decade. She lived with her family in Sycamore Park and Strawberry and thoroughly enjoyed raising two daughters in the mayhem of Marin’s youth sports; soccer, swim, volleyball, ballet, hip hop, gymnastics and many many hours spent at Miwok Stables. Her community involvements include volunteering at her daughter’s schools, coaching soccer and volleyball (glorified snack mom), being on the board of both Richardson Bay Audubon Center. Currently residing on a floating home in Sausalito, she enjoys all water activity, including learning how to steer a 6-person canoe for the Tamalpais Outrigger Canoe Club. Born and raised in Hawaii, her fondness for the islands has on occasion made its way into the pages of the magazine.