The Meaning of Traditional Hawaiian Lei Day – May Day Hawaii
A Short Overview of Lei Day in Hawaii
In Hawaii, May Day is known as Lei Day. Every year on May 1st, Hawaii celebrates Lei Day, a commemoration of a culturally significant symbol. In the crafting and wearing of the lei, the custom honors the state’s natural production of tropical flowers, which is observed by locals dressed in aloha attire.
The giving and receiving of the lei is a Polynesian tradition. Original Hawaiian settlers brought this tradition to the islands, where it is now practiced by both sexes. During ancient Hawaiian times, both commoners and chiefs of both sexes wore lei. However, certain lei, such as the lei niho palaoa, which was made from a whale tooth and entwined human hair, were reserved for royalty. Men and women continue to wear and exchange lei on modern occasions such as graduations, funerals, birthdays, and weddings. Although lei are commonly and commercially made from flowers, they are also frequently crafted from leaves, nuts, shells, feathers, and ribbon.
Lei Day was first celebrated in 1927, despite the fact that the lei’s symbolism and history are deeply rooted. Don Blanding, a writer and poet for the Honolulu Star-Bulletin, was responsible for the first Lei Day celebration on O’ahu, which became a state-wide event two years later. Grace Tower Warren, his coworker, determined that Lei Day should be celebrated on May Day, May 1, and popularized the phrase “May Day is Lei Day in Hawaii Nei.” This inspired Ruth and Leonard “Red” Hawk to write the popular song “May Day is Lei Day in Hawaii.” Lei Day’s status as a non-official state holiday does not diminish its significance for all Hawaiian residents, despite the fact that the nationally renowned celebration is not recognized as a day off work.
Schools on every island observe Lei Day with songs, hula dancing, and a procession of the Lei Day court. This culminates in a special hula performance by each of the kings and queens representing the eight major Hawaiian islands. Royals also participate in Lei Day traditions by donning a flower and color unique to each of the eight Hawaiian islands.
In the month of May, the city streets are filled with people wearing aloha shirts and colorful mu’umu’u dresses. Locals are always most enthusiastic about the Lei Day display. There are lengthy lines to view the winning lei of the year. Award categories for lei include lei papale (hat lei), lei lipine (yarn lei), mixed media, and youth, with the Mayor’s Grand Prize being the most prestigious. Bill Char once won the award for his intricately crafted blue lei composed of native ferns, berries, and flowers.
Each year, the Annual Lei Day Celebration is held at Queen Kapiolani Park on Oahu. The free event features hula performances, live music, local cuisine, shopping, lei-making demonstrations, Lei Day Queen appearances, and the renowned lei contest display.
How May Day in Hawaii became Lei Day
In the 1920s, when steamships were popular and people sold leis on the street, poet Don Blanding had an idea.
Making a lei (a garland or wreath) with flowers, shells, or feathers is a tradition and art form in Hawaii that has been passed down from generation to generation. Many floral lei were made as gifts for specific people, and great care was taken to find the right materials and string the flowers together in a beautiful way. In the past, lei were often tied around a person’s neck as a sign of respect because the head and back were thought to be holy. This is different from how lei are given today, when they are placed over the head. In either case, the spirit of the person who made the lei is said to go to the person who wears it.
In the 1920s, poet Don Blanding had an idea. Steamships were going to the Islands a lot, and there were more and more lei sellers on the piers and sidewalks of downtown hotels. He thought Hawaii should have a day to celebrate the flower lei. He talked to Grace Tower Warren, a columnist for the Honolulu Star-Bulletin. She suggested May Day and came up with the phrase “May Day is Lei Day.” People thought that Lei Day should be on May 1 because many different kinds of flowers would be in bloom on that day. This would make May 1 a colorful day and event.
The idea was well received by the public, and in 1928, the first official Lei Day was held. According to the Honolulu Star Advertiser, “Leis and more leis will be seen in Honolulu today, which is Lei day in Hawaii.” Many women in the city are making their own leis, which is an interesting aspect of the celebration, and yesterday afternoon, special flowers were ordered. In some cases, flowers are harvested from private gardens.”
In addition to the many individuals who worked day and night to create hundreds of flower lei, Matson Navigation Company decorated every passenger arriving on Maui that day with flower lei, Lei Day programs were developed throughout the Islands’ schools, and junior police officers wore flower lei that day. It was said that the lobby of the Bank of Hawaii building resembled a flower garden, with “balconies banked with banyan boughs” and a maypole strung with fragrant maile. Nina Bowman was the city’s first Lei Day queen, and leis were entered into a contest and exhibition for which Princess Kawananakoa awarded prizes.
As Lei Day grew over the years and outgrew City Hall, the celebration moved to Queen Kapiolani Park in Waikiki, where it continues to be held annually.
Have you heard? Each island in the Hawaiian archipelago has its own flower and color.
The color of Hawaii Island is red, and its flower is the ohia lehua. Maui’s flower is the lokelani and its color is akala (pink); The color of Oahu is melemele (yellow) and its flower is ilima; Molokai’s flower is the kukui and its color is omaomao (green); The color of Lanai is alani (orange) and its flower is kaunaoa; Hinahina (silvery gray) is the color of Kahoolawe, and its flower is the hinahina (Heliotropium anomalum); Kauai is purple and its flower is the mokihana, while Niihau is white and its flower is the pupu (shell).
Topic: The Meaning of Traditional Hawaiian Lei Day – May Day Hawaii
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By: Travel Pixy