May Day is Lei Day
May 1 means different things to different people. In some countries it’s Labor Day, in others it’s the Spring Festival, and in Hawai`i, May Day is Lei Day!
Lei are sewn or weaved strands of flowers, seeds, shells, or feathers. It symbolizes all the aspects of aloha such as love, joy and sympathy. The lei wearing tradition started so long ago that it’s hard to trace its origins, but has always been an important party of history.
Writer Emma Ahuena Taylor explains, “the lei meant a great deal in old Hawai`i. The favorite child in the home was called a wreath — a lei.”
This floral accessory from the Hawaiian islands eventually spread around the world as a symbol of aloha. But, it wasn’t until the last century that the lei got it’s very own day.
In 1927, Honolulu Star-Bulletin writer Don Blanding asked readers, “why not have a lei day?” He envisioned a day to reflect on how lucky we are to live in Hawai`i, to reach out to family and friends, and to give and wear lei. A few days later, Honolulu Star-Bulletin columnist Grace Tower Warren suggested May 1 as the perfect day for this celebration and coined the term “May Day is Lei Day in Hawai`i”.
May Day has evolved over the years and in 2001, Hawai`i’s late Senator Daniel Kahikina Akaka explained, “Lei Day is a nonpolitical and nonpartisan celebration. Indeed, its sole purpose is to engage in random acts of kindness and sharing, and to celebrate the aloha spirit, that intangible, but palpable, essence which is best exemplified by the hospitality and inclusiveness exhibited by the Native Hawaiians — Hawai`i’s indigenous peoples — to all people of goodwill.”
Traditionally, Hilo celebrates May Day with music, dance, food, and of course, lots of lei at the Kalākaua Park Festival. With people still playing it safe for the pandemic, there’s no festival this year. But ash more people get vaccinated and events open up, we look forward to resuming again on future Lei Days!
Pictured below: My IG post making a non-traditional Rice Crispy Treat Lei!