Owen Ho

Nathalie Walker photo nwalker@midweek.com

For most, the Christmas spirit starts to take shape following Thanksgiving, but for Owen Ho, designer of the Honolulu City Lights Christmas display, his innovated Christmas ideas and positivity seem to be churning all year long.

Under Ho’s creative leadership, what once was simply an annual tree lighting has ballooned in the past 25 years into a seasonal exhibit of joy, culture and celebration.

“It is satisfying to see the number of people who show up with their children and children’s children talking about the display and what it was like when they were kids,” he says.

This year Ho and his team had many ideas in their Christmas think tank, but the one that rose to the top was their Santa’s Underwater Adventure, featuring many of our friends of the sea in ornament fashion, including an 8-foot octopus.

“We played with a few different concepts with the Friends of Honolulu City Lights. Rather than an aquarium scene, we did this a little more cartoonish. I’m proud of it,” says Ho, who was featured on MidWeek‘s cover Dec. 24, 2003.

Honolulu City Lights easily separates itself from any other Christmas displays on the Mainland, or internationally for that matter, with one polarizing, classically Hawaiian gesture: the shaka.

“Frank Fasi’s political symbol was the shaka sign, so we created the Shaka Santa. We did it with the intention that when Frank finally retired, we would cut off the hand and have Santa waving. It was such an icon for the city that (Mayor) Jeremy Harris said not to take the shaka off. That’s how we have our Shaka Santa,” explains Ho.

On a full-time basis, Ho has held display designer positions for many retail companies, most particularly Duty Free Shops.

“Duty Free Shops got me to live in Hong Kong – I took care of Alaska and California divisions and Hawaii,” says Ho. “Duty Free Shops allowed me to get out into the community, and that’s how I got involved in the City Lights display.”

Moving forward, Ho would like to keep participating as long as he continues to be invited to the organizational planning. He really does get a kick out of watching the delight in people’s eyes as they walk through the display.

“It is free for the community, and I think the Christmas tree is the highlight for the city,” he says. “It’s nice to be anonymous. I can just walk through and listen to comments. I enjoy that part.”