May Day is the first day of May, and in Hawaiian culture it is a celebration. May Day is Lei Day in Hawaii. This statewide holiday in celebrated in the spirit of aloha and people give gifts of leis to one another. Schools put on plays and performances. There is a Lei Day court of Queens and Kings to represent the different islands. Each island has its own symbol that is composed of a color and a flower. In school, every year we would practice our performance in each of our classes. On May 1st, the parents and family members of the school kids would gather in the audience to watch us perform. It was always a very fun and unique cultural experience to be a part of this.
When did this tradition begin?
It is actually unknown when the tradition of giving lei began. It was believed to be a custom with the original Hawaiians, who presented lei of nuts, seeds, shells, flowers, and leaves as offering to the gods. In 1927, writer Don Blanding noticed that the act of giving a lei was being adopted all over the world. Mr Blanding encouraged the local newspaper to urge their readers to give and wear a lei on May 1 to honor the Hawaiian culture. The idea was so popular and well received that it officially became a holiday and known as Lei Day in 1929. A celebration was held in downtown Honolulu!
Over the next few years, the celebration outgrew its original location in downtown Honolulu and moved to Queen Kapiolani Park in Waikiki. To this day, thousands of people still gather at Queen Kapiolani Park for hula exhibition, lei exhibits and sharing of the Hawaiian culture.
Ways that Hawaii Celebrates Lei Day
May Day is something that the people of Hawaii and visitors who plan their entire trip around the festivities look forward to all year long. May Day celebrations have evolved and now include beautiful parades, lei contests and the appointing of a royal court. Like I was saying before, the schools celebrate May Day, with children of all grade levels. The children are taught the formal arrangement for welcoming the royal court and performing hula. Each of the eight main Hawaiian Islands are represented on the royal court by color and type of flower that is worn. It is a huge honor to be selected to be on the royal court, or named a king or queen. This is taken very seriously by being a good example for peers and a good student in school.
How to offer a lei to someone:
-Always remember to gently drape ( do not throw) the lei around the neck of a person. Rest it on their shoulders.
-It is custom to give the person a kiss on the cheek or hug when offering the lei
-If you receive a lei, make sure to continue to wear your lei while in the presence of the giver.
The great celebration that takes place at Queen Kapiolani Park in Oahu has been cancelled this year due to the pandemic. Locals and tourists are being encouraged to make leis using items they have access to, and display them at home. This will be a part of Na Lei Koa Day- or Warrior Lei Day. This day is to honor our healthcare workers, first responders and essential workers. Now that you know that May Day is Lei Day in Hawaii, you can celebrate too! Wherever you are located in the world, you can participate! Spread and share the spirit of aloha.