Episode 121: Lei Day in Hawaii Explained: History, Traditions, and Significance

by | May 1, 2024

In this special episode, we are diving into the enchanting celebration of Lei Day in Hawaii. If you’re a traveler planning a trip to the islands or simply curious about Hawaiian culture, this episode is a must-listen.

Joining us is the Kumu Kahanuola Solatorio, a Hawaiian language teacher,  and an all-around great guy full of aloha.

Together, we’ll explore the rich history and significance of Lei Day, why it holds a special place in the hearts of Hawaiians, and how it is celebrated across the islands.

So, whether you’re dreaming of your upcoming Hawaiian adventure or simply want to immerse yourself in the beauty of Lei Day, this episode will provide you with a captivating overview of this cherished Hawaiian tradition.

Get ready to be inspired and gain a deeper appreciation for the cultural treasures that await you in Hawaii.

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History of Lei Day

lei greeting at a luau

Lei Day, a beloved celebration in Hawaii, has a rich history that dates back to 1928. Lei, which has become synonymous with Hawaiian culture, holds a special place in the hearts of Hawaiians.

In the early days, people would sell leis at the harbors to the tourists arriving on the islands. These leis, whether made from kukui nuts, fresh flowers, or even plastic flowers, became iconic symbols of Hawaii.

They represented not only a tourist attraction but also a deep connection to the land and the resources it provides.

Over the years, Lei Day has evolved into a celebration of the love for the land, known as aloha aina, and the artistry of creating and wearing leis.

It is a day to honor the vibrant traditions and cultural heritage of Hawaii, showcasing the beauty and significance of these adornments.

Lei Day is a testament to the enduring spirit of Hawaiian culture and its ability to captivate the hearts of both locals and visitors alike.

Ways Lei Day is Celebrated

Lei Day is celebrated in various ways across the islands of Hawaii. The most prominent tradition is the making and giving of leis.

On this special day, people don their best aloha wear and either create their own lei or purchase one to wear or gift to others.

While leis can be quite expensive on regular days, Lei Day allows everyone to indulge in the beauty of these floral adornments.

Additionally, many schools organize May Day celebrations, featuring Hawaiian music, storytelling, and hula performances. Parents eagerly attend these events to witness their children’s first hula dances and immerse themselves in the joyous atmosphere.

Throughout the islands, there are also concerts, showcasing Hawaiian music, delectable food, and of course, captivating hula performances.

Lei Day is a time for communities to come together, celebrate their cultural heritage, and revel in the beauty of Hawaii’s traditions.

Unique Lei Day Celebrations

While Lei Day celebrations are cohesive across the islands, there are also unique elements that distinguish each island’s festivities.

One notable event is the lei contests held on every major island, including O’ahu, Kaua’i, Maui, Hilo, and Kona. These contests showcase the artistry and creativity of lei makers, attracting both locals and tourists who appreciate the beauty of these intricate creations.

O’ahu, in particular, hosts the lei day court selection in February, where a lei day queen and two ladies in waiting are chosen to represent the spirit of Lei Day for the year.

The Kapi’olani Bandstand on O’ahu serves as a venue for lei demonstrations, contests, and cultural performances. These unique celebrations add a touch of individuality to Lei Day, while still honoring the shared traditions and values of Hawaiian culture.

Lei Day in Hawaii Wrap-Up

 Lei Day is a cherished celebration in Hawaii that pays homage to the cultural significance of leis and the deep connection Hawaiians have with their land.

his annual event, which originated in 1928, has evolved into a day of joy, appreciation, and cultural expression. From the making and giving of leis to vibrant May Day celebrations in schools and community events featuring music, hula, and delicious food, Lei Day brings people together to honor and showcase the beauty of Hawaiian traditions.

Whether you’re a traveler planning a trip to Hawaii or simply curious about the rich cultural heritage of the islands, Lei Day offers a captivating glimpse into the heart and soul of Hawaii.

So, join us in celebrating Lei Day and immerse yourself in the aloha spirit that permeates the islands.

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Bumper music, Ukulele and Chill, provided by Coby G (used with permission)
Bumper music, Aloha Friday, provided by Clay D (used with permission)


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121 - Lei Day - REPLAY_01

[00:00:00] Coming up on Hawai'i's Best. Every time someone thinks about Hawai'i, they think about lei. Whether it be kukui nut lei or a fresh flower lei or the fake, you know, plastic flower lei that people like to wear with their grass skirts. It's a part of our culture and it's a part of our islands. Kahanuala Solatorio is a Hawaiian language teacher, kumu, and an all around just great guy full of aloha, and I can't wait for you to hear this episode.

[00:00:29] Today is Lei Day, May 1st in Hawaii, and we're going to be talking about what that is. This was a recorded episode. We had a lot and on a previous episode, and I wanted to share it because it's timely being that today is Ley Day. I hope you enjoy it and be sure to subscribe to the podcast because the next week we have some new episodes coming out, so you don't want to miss that.

[00:00:51] But today it's Ley Day, so let's go ahead and let's celebrate. Aloha, welcome to Hawaii's Best. Here, you'll learn what to [00:01:00] know before traveling as we discover Hawaiian culture, local businesses, and the experiences that make Hawaii one of the most incredible places in the world. Aloha and welcome to another episode of Hawaii's Best.

[00:01:12] I'm your host Brian Murphy and welcome to a special episode today. I am joined with our unofficial cultural practitioner Kaha Nui Zolotol Rio. How is it going, man? How is Oahu? Well, it was great. Um, long time no see and chat. I know it's good to see Waikiki alive again and see tourists here. Um, a lot of them are being more responsible when they come to Hawaii because they're pretty much people are calling tourists out on social media and everything.

[00:01:44] Yeah. Right. And hopefully this is a resource for someone who's planning a trip can take into account some of the things just to be aware of traveling into a culture and kind of what to do and what not to do. Well, it's good to connect again and see ya. [00:02:00] Totally. But today we're talking about May Day, which is Ley Day in Hawaii, and that's happening today, Ley Day.

[00:02:08] Yeah. What is Lei Day all about why is it celebrated? Maybe a little history behind the day. Just starting us off. The first May Day, uh, Lei Day was held in 1928. Lei has been very synonymous with Hawai'i and Hawaiian culture. Back in the boat days, people would sell leis at the harbors to the tourists that would come in.

[00:02:30] I'm sure at that time it was like 10 cents or something, but every time someone thinks about Hawai'i, they think about lei. Whether it be kukui nut lei, or a fresh flower lei, or the fake, you know, plastic flower lei that people like to wear with their grass skirts. It's a part of our culture and it's a part of our islands.

[00:02:51] But for me, like, yeah, there's a touristy side to it, but it also shows our connection to the land. It shows our aloha aina, our [00:03:00] love for the land, because we use the resources that are given to us to create adornments that we love to wear and we love to show off. So. Yeah, I think Lay Day is all about that.

[00:03:09] Celebrating our, you know, celebrating our, our fresh flowers, our resources that we're given because of this land. And what are some ways in how it's celebrated? Yeah. Obviously the making and giving of lays, but Yeah. It's funny because as much as people want to wear leis every day, they're pretty expensive.

[00:03:30] Um, you know, they're pretty pricey. So on this day, everyone, you know, wears their best muumu'u, their best aloha wear. They either make their own lei to wear or they give a lei, they buy a lei, the very best leis. And then Other ways that we celebrate it, a lot of schools, they actually have May Day celebrations, whether it's actually on May Day, on May 1st, or around that week or whatnot.

[00:03:55] So, a lot of celebrations of Hawaiian music, of storytelling, [00:04:00] hula, of course, that's all big components of Hawaiian culture. in our Hawaiian culture. And you see it like every school on that day, they're all having celebrations. You know, parents come to, to watch their kids perform, get the shot of their child dancing hula for their first time, probably.

[00:04:19] Yeah. And then there's a lot of, you know, other concerts around the islands that celebrate May Day. Just Hawaiian music, good food. Hula, all that jazz. So across the islands, are there unique celebrations or the outer islands kind of celebrate in their own unique way? Or is it pretty much cohesive? Yeah, it's pretty cohesive.

[00:04:38] I know, um, every year they usually have lay contests. On every island, or at least the main four islands, O'ahu, Kaua'i, Maui, and then one in Hilo, one in Kona, but they have lei contests. So the one in O'ahu is usually held at the Kapi'olani Bandstand, um, and it's a good way for if tourists, [00:05:00] you know, they want to come and look at beautiful lei, they can go stop by, I think it's a free event, and then we can just come and, Of course, music and hula, and also for O'ahu specifically, not sure about the other islands, but they have a lei day court.

[00:05:14] Um, there's always going to be a lei day queen and then two, I guess, ladies in waiting that they're the court for that year. And this is held in February, the, the selection for that day there, the honorary lei day court for Hawaii. So yeah. I think it starts in the morning at nine, but it goes all the way till like five, five 30.

[00:05:36] People have lay demonstrations. They have, of course, the lay contest. There's a few different styles of lay that people use. The first one is Haku, Haku Lay, which a lot of people are getting confused with. They think that the Haku Lay is the one they wear on their head. Crown. Yeah, crown. Um, but that's, that would be called a lay po'o, lay.

[00:05:57] Yeah. And the pole Hakuna [00:06:00] is something that they weave together, and they bring in all the different materials that they, you know, they want to create. Hakuna means to create or to make, so. Kind of, before we sing about anything else, we've got to share. Yeah, um, how about one of the songs that are, you know, famous from Oh, come on.

[00:06:20] And we've got to. Yeah, you've got to do it. So if you know it, just sing along. Maybe dance. That's if you want to. Happy days out there, Is lei day in Hawaii, Garlands of flowers everywhere, All of the colors in the rainbow, Maidens with blossoms in their hair, Flowers that mean we should be happy, Throwing aside a load of care, oh, May Day is lei day [00:07:00] in Hawaii.

[00:07:00] May Day is happy days out there. Happy May Day, everyone. Aloha.

[00:07:11] Mahalo for listening to this episode of Hawaii's Best. To stay up to date on future episodes, please subscribe and visit us at hawaiibesttravel. com.