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Hawaii Lei Day – Celebrating a Beautiful Tradition

Hawaii Lei Day – Celebrating a Beautiful Tradition

Every year since 1929, the 1st May is celebrated as Hawaii Lei Day. Statewide celebrations are held in all of Hawaii with full fun and fare symbolizing the beauty of the aloha spirit! Header photo by Joel.

The day marks the celebration of Leis – fresh flowers famous not only across Hawaii but also across the world. Traditionally Lei wreaths were used as a sign of peace between various native tribes. Today, people from across the globe recognize the wreath of Lei flowers and foliage as a symbol of peace, love, and welcome.

Photo by Joel

The leis are given and received in keeping with a beautiful tradition that is cherished by all of Hawaii. Beautifully woven floral wreaths, worn both by men and women, are commonly used to mark all kinds of celebrations in Hawaii right from weddings and anniversaries to graduation and as a gesture of the world-famous Hawaiian hospitality and vacation experience.

The Rich History of Lei Day in Hawaii

The historical origins of Hawaii Lei Day can be linked back to Don Blanding, a writer and poet, who in his book “Hula Moons” explains the story behind how the Hawaiian holiday came to be recognized (keolamagazine.com).

He mentioned that the custom of wearing leis wreaths among Hawaiians goes way back in history. It is believed that the Polynesian voyagers who sailed all the way from Tahiti to Hawaii, were the first to introduce this tradition into the Hawaiian culture.

However, when paradise islands were discovered and successively visited by tourists, they were immediately taken in by this wonderful gesture and the word spread outside of Hawaii. And so on February 13th, 1928 (long before the Patriots started to cheat in the NFL), Don in an article for Honolulu Star-Bulletin suggested that Hawaiians celebrate this tradition.

He proposed that Hawaiians should establish a day when everyone gives and receives wreaths of lei – in essence, he proposed they celebrate a “Lei Day.”

Two days later, Grace Tower Warren (Don’s co-worker) suggested that May 1st be chosen as the day when all of Hawaii celebrates Lei Day. It was she who came up with the catchy slogan “May Day is Lei Day in Hawaii!”

The slogan incidentally is also the title of one of the most famous and popular songs on Hawaii Lei Day written by Ruth and Leonard “Red” Hawk.

Since the official recognition of Lei Day in 1929, Hawaii Lei Day is celebrated as a statewide holiday on May 1st each year. It is marked by a host of festivities and events, including lei making contests, pageants, live music and dance programs. 

Oahu Lei Day Events

The largest Lei Day events are organized in Oahu in Queen Kapiolani Park in Waikiki. Festivities are grand with local bands playing live music, fantastic food, lei making contents, and demonstrations as well as handicrafts and hula dancing. The festivities are watched over by the lei queen and her court. Check out the upcoming themes for Honolulu annual Lei Day contest for the next 4 years. More information on lei-making workshops and contest can be found on Honolulu Department of Parks and Recreation site.

Hawaii Lei Day celebration
Photo by Joel

You can also visit the nearby International Market Place for a free lei-making workshop with master lei-maker Meleana Estes.

Maui Lei Day Events

In Maui, lei wreaths are made from the lokelani – also known as the “rose of heaven.” On Lei Day, everyone gets into the festive mood by wearing a lei and taking part in festivities.

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There are exhibitions, workshops by local artists who share their skills on lei making, and contests on lei making for adults and kids. And last but not the least, you can expect good food, dance programs, and live music to go with all of the above.

Events include the annual Cazimero Lei Day Concert at the Maui Arts & Cultural Center, Lei Day Heritage Festival in Bailey House Museum, the Longest Lei Exchange at the Westin Maui Resort & Spa in Kaanapali.

Big Island Lei Day Events

The lei in Big Island is made from the blossoms of the Lehua tree and it is usually red in color. Lei making contests, live music, hula, and crafts – there is no end to the fun and festivities on Big Island. The largest celebration is in Hilo – Hilo Lei Day Festival in Kalakaua Park.

Kauai Lei Day Events

In Kauai, the lei is made of purplish berries that are woven with maile. May Day by the Bay is a community event held at Waioli Beach Park, right on the bay in Hanalei. Enjoy the Lei Day festivities accompanied by Hawaiian music – hula dancing, a wide range of cultural demonstrations, crafts and auction and of course, food tours and tastings of fabulous Ono food.

Find out more about official colors and flowers for all Hawaiian islands.

Lei Day in Hawaii – A Cultural Evolution

Hawaii Lei Day is a beautiful expression and extension of the aloha culture. And although through the decades Lei Day has incorporated certain foreign tradition, this festival has managed to retain and establish the cultural heritage of the Hawaiian people in more ways than one.

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