The statewide celebration of Lei Day is Hawaii’s annual tribute to the aloha spirit. Celebrated on May 1st of each year, Lei Day celebrates Hawaiian culture and in particular, the iconic Hawaiian symbol of the lei. Honoring the state’s production of tropical flowers and the craftsmanship of the lei, Lei Day is celebrated across the Hawaiian islands with events, performances, and ceremonies.
What is Lei Day?
Whilst May Day is a recognized day of the year in other parts of the world, May Day in Hawaii is Lei Day. An individual tropical flower represents each Hawaiian island, the flowers which are crafted into the widely recognized welcome gift of the lei. The lei represents love, friendship, inclusion, and honor meaning that in essence, it is the symbol of aloha. Lei Day celebrates this iconic symbol of Hawaii and the culture of the islands. Lei Day is a non-political and non-religious day of celebration simply recognizing the Hawaiian people, history, and culture. Lei Day is a celebration that welcomes all, whether local or visitor, to show appreciation to the spirit of Hawaii. While Lei Day is a non-official state holiday, the holiday still has important significance for the Hawaiian locals.
History of Lei Day
The custom of crafting and wearing leis goes so far back in Hawaiian history that there is no record of the origins but it is thought that original Hawaiian settlers brought the tradition to the islands with them. Whether you have had the joy of visiting Hawaii or not, the brightly colored greeting gift of the lei is a symbol of Hawaii recognized across the world and the lei has played an important role in the history and culture of the native Hawaiian’s.
The official recognition of Lei Day as a national holiday was in 1929, although celebrations began two years prior in 1927 with the first celebration on O’ahu. Whilst Hawaii has always celebrated the national holidays of the mainland and the holidays of several immigrant nationalities inhabiting the island, prior to the 1920s, there was no event or celebration for the unique culture of the Hawaiian people.
With the modernization of the islands, the levels of tourism, and the increase of culture blending, there have been concerns that there will eventually be a loss of the Hawaiian cultural identity and Lei Day is a great opportunity to highlight and celebrate the aloha spirit and the goodwill of native Hawaiians.
How to celebrate Lei Day
Lei Day is an open event that can be celebrated by everyone regardless of age, nationality, or religion. Celebrated on every island, every year there is a wealth of performances featuring live music, hula dancing, and other entertainment while craft and food vendors attend the events to create a festival. The annual events also feature lei crafting workshops as well as contests for lei craftsmanship admiring the beauty of the lei creation.
A Lei Queen will preside over the festivities, a female who is chosen for their skills in areas of lei craftsmanship, hula dancing, and fluency of the Hawaiian language. The most common way to celebrate Lei Day is through the giving and receiving of leis, the tradition that the holiday is built around. Meanwhile, schools will put on plays in honor of Lei Day or participate in the procession of the Lei Day Court. Students select fellow schoolchildren to represent a King and Queen for each Hawaiian island with the royalty selected showcasing performances of hula dancing. The biggest celebration is still held on O’ahu at Kapi’olani Park but incredible events can be found across all of the Hawaiian islands.