Written in 1949, by R. Alex Anderson. An absolute classic. I love Jimmy Buffett's version most, but below, the actual writer of this "Hawaiian" Xmas song... a rare video, indeed!
"Mele Kalikimaka" is a Christmas song sung as a warm greeting from Hawaii. The song takes its title from the phrase "Mele Kalikimaka", derived from the Hawaiian pronunciation of "Merry Christmas". Since Hawaiian does not have all English phonemes, in particular the "R" and "S", "Merry Christmas" becomes "Mele Kalikimaka" (note the substitution of L's for R's, and K's for S's). "Mele Kalikimaka" is therefore a transliteration, not a translation of "Merry Christmas".
The song was written in 1949 by Robert Alex Anderson who is better known to fans of Hawaiian and hapa haole music as R. Alex Anderson. One of the earliest recordings of this song was by Bing Crosby & The Andrews Sisters in 1950 on Decca 27228 (78 rpm) / 9-27228 (45 rpm) and has been covered by several artists, including Don Ho, Bette Midler and many others.
Here's Bing's version--it sucks because he can't keep up with the music, and because he seems tongue twisted saying Mele Kalikimaka. Not as smooth as Jimmy Buffett, certainly.
Now the most precious video, as promised. R. Alex Anderson. Tells the story of the song, and then sings it! Praise youtube for preserving this type of clip. This was filmed in 1995.
That very first verse, something about steel guitars, is not in any recorded version I am familiar with. Perhaps it's a unique "lost verse" from the original songwriter. Or maybe it's just a one-time brain fart.