"For me, the holidays have always been a chance to slow down and reflect," former First Lady Michelle Obama wrote on Instagram this week

By Adam Carlson
December 24, 2020 03:20 PM
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Barack Obama and Michelle Obama head out on a kayak ride together in Hawaii. The 44th U.S. President and the former First Lady of the United States enjoyed a boat ride in the Pacific Ocean ahead of the Christmas holiday
| Credit: The Image Direct

The Obamas have touched down far from the wintry weather of Washington, D.C., for a sunny holiday stay in Hawaii.

A source tells PEOPLE the former First Family is partaking in a decades-long family tradition of celebrating Christmas in the place where the former president spent most of his boyhood.

Hawaii, where Obama was born, has been a regular retreat for the family over the years. (On past trips they've enjoyed everything from the Honolulu Zoo to area animal parks to dips in the ocean and basketball games and plenty of shaved ice and rounds of golf.)

Former President Barack Obama and former First Lady Michelle Obama were photographed Tuesday on a kayaking trip in the Aloha state.

This year's break comes after a turbulent year for the country, as Mrs. Obama explained in an Instagram post this week.

"For me, the holidays have always been a chance to slow down and reflect. We’ve endured so much this past year, from the devastation of the pandemic to the ups and downs of a hard-won election," she wrote on Tuesday. "But what has perhaps stayed with me most is the passionate message of justice and empathy that has defined the Black Lives Matter protests around the world."

Mrs. Obama, 56, lauded Patrick Hutchinson, who was photographed this summer in London carrying an injured white man during a protest.

"The truth is the millions around the world who showed up with their homemade signs were marching with the same kind of compassion that Mr. Hutchinson shows here," the former first lady wrote on Instagram. "They’re folks who face discrimination on a daily basis because of the color of their skin. And they’re just asking to be shown the same level of humanity that our consciences demand we show anyone else in need."

"I hope more people can find it in their hearts to meet these cries for decency not with mistrust, but with love and a willingness to listen," Mrs. Obama continued. "Because as the COVID-19 crisis has made clear, our fates are inextricably bound. If the least of us struggles, we all in some way feel that pain. And, unless we keep speaking out and marching for equality, none of us will ever truly be free."

From left: Michelle, Sasha, Barack and Malia Obama in July 2019
| Credit: Pete Souza

She ended with this:

"I pray that in 2021, more of us will reach out to understand the experiences of those who don’t look, or vote, or think like we do. I pray that we learn to pause when we're tempted to react in anger or suspicion. And I pray that we choose generosity and kindness over our worst impulses. That isn’t always easy. But it’s a place to start. And we have so many terrific examples in all of the folks who marched for what’s right this year.

"Thanks to you all. I’m so proud of you."

The year — of widespread social changes and upheaval and a historic presidential election and a deadly pandemic — brought new changes to the former first family as well: President Obama released the first of his two-volume White House memoir, A Promised Land; meanwhile daughters Malia, 22, and 19-year-old Sasha returned home like so many other college students in the spring to continue their college classes virtually.

The Obamas in May 2019
| Credit: Michelle Obama/Twitter

In a wide-ranging conversation with PEOPLE this fall, President Obama, 59, said Malia and Sasha joined in the national demonstrations this year sparked by the killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and others.

He also spoke candidly about how his time in the White House had strained his marriage — and how their family "came out of it whole."

"There were great joys in the White House. There was never a time where we didn't recognize what an extraordinary privilege it was to be there," he told PEOPLE. "Most importantly, our children emerged intact and they are wonderful, kind, thoughtful, creative — and not entitled — young women. So that's a big sigh of relief."