Why does President Obama always go to Hawaii for Christmas?

For President Obama, Christmas means returning to the islands of Hawaii for the holidays.

AP Photo/Evan Vucci
President Barack Obama, second from left, arrives at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam for a family vacation, on Saturday, Dec. 19, 2015, in Honolulu, Hawaii. From left, daughter Sasha Obama, Obama, daughter Malia Obama, and first lady Michelle Obama.

It’s almost Christmas, and for President Obama that means returning to the islands of Hawaii.

Mr. Obama was raised in Hawaii and the islands are home to him; this will be the Obamas’ eighth consecutive trip to the islands as a family during his time in the White House.

This week, first lady Michelle Obama said that "Because it's such an important tradition, I wouldn't want to be anywhere else in the world.” The first family typically spends Christmas and New Year’s in Hawaii, and their summers on Martha’s Vineyard.

During their annual two weeks in Hawaii, the Obamas are likely to take part in many relaxing activities, including snorkeling, eating shaved ice – the Hawaiian version of a snow cone – and, for the president, playing golf. The president is an avid golfer, having spent more than 1,100 hours on the links during his time in office, a number that puts him on par with former President Dwight D. Eisenhower, reports CNN.

The first family may also be hoping for a slightly more relaxing holiday season than they have had in some years past.

Obama has had to occasionally either reduce or cancel his vacation time in response to the events of the day. In 2012, for example, the year-end deadline for the so-called “fiscal cliff” prompted the Obama family to return home to Washington ahead of schedule. This year, the president began his vacation by stopping in San Bernardino to visit the families of the victims of the mass shooting that took place there two weeks ago.  

One of the most crucial parts of the Obamas’ annual trek to Hawaii, though, is the opportunity it provides the president to recharge his batteries away from the Oval Office, in the state where he was born and spent much of his time growing up.

Mrs. Obama has said that "You can't really understand Barack until you understand Hawaii,” the Washington Post reports. Some suggest that the laid back aloha culture of the nation’s 50th state has played a role in shaping Obama’s decision-making process as president. 

The Washington Post says:

Translated literally, it means the breath of life. But aloha is also sometimes interpreted as an acronym for five words meaning kindness (akahai), unity (lokahi), agreeability (olu'olu), humility (ha'aha'a) and patience (ahonui).

Obama has also reiterated his personal ties to the state over the years, saying that “[W]hat's best in me, and what's best in my message, is consistent with the tradition of Hawaii."

Of course, any presidential vacation, including the Obama family’s Christmas vacation, costs the US taxpayers. And that makes it a sore point for some. It costs $206,337 per hour to operate Air Force One to fly the Obamas where they need to go, according to Judicial Watch, or about $3.7 million to fly from Washington, D.C. to Honolulu.

“President Obama evidently cares not one whit about the costs to beleaguered taxpayers for his personal and political travel,” Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton said in a statement.  

In response to the criticism, White House spokesman Eric Schultz said, “We believe the American people would not begrudge their president for taking some downtime with his family around the holidays.”  

Overall, Obama has actually taken relatively little time off during his tenure in office: 23 vacations, spanning 177 days, reports Yahoo News, since taking office in January 2009. And CBS News correspondent Mark Knoller, who has covered every president since Gerald Ford, indicates that no president is ever fully on vacation.

 “I have long held the view that a US president is never really on vacation. The job — and its awesome powers and responsibilities — is his wherever he is and whatever he’s doing,” Knoller told FactCheck.org.

Officials in former President George W. Bush's administration called the Crawford, Texas, ranch the “Western White House” to emphasize that his vacation days there involved plenty of official business.

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