The First of the May Celebrates the Lei

Repeated visitors to the island are familiar with the wonderful custom of being presented a flower lei to lie over one’s shoulders, given as a welcome which is synonymous with Hawaii. I received one on my first trip to here, which was also my trip to move here. I love to see tourists still wearing their welcome lei when they walk up and down the Waikiki strip. I loved it when a well known football player complained that if the NFL ProBowl left Hawaii, he would not be greeted with a lei when he got off the plane at the newmainland venue. And I love to shop for a lei, usually down in Chinatown, and struggle to pick which one, of all the beauties, should I buy.

A sampling of some prize winning lei made of so many different flowers, including statice, sweet william, fern, dusty miller, rose, protea, orchid, lily, ti leaf, lihua, and more.

The Lei, of Polynesian derivation, came to Hawaii along with early settlers hundreds of years ago, and took hold here more than in other south pacific islands. It was used in their worship of the gods, and to this day is worn during any important event, whether happy, sad, or business. I always enjoy seeing politicians and city leaders wearing lei when conducting business. There is something about it that seems to soften the edges of what could be difficult work.

hula keiki, haku (head) lei, chapeau with flowers, and grass woven flowers..

The once a year celebration of the lei is one of my favorite holidays – as it is a legal holiday here in Hawaii, and has been for 84 years. This year it took place on a Sunday, so I expected more crowds than usual, but it didn’t seem to be any less crowded – hundreds of locals know they can expect good food, good crafts, good music and amazing hand made lei in a competition for best in show.

Before I looked at the lei, I walked through the craft show vendors that had merchandise that I hadn’t seen out and about, and although small in number, was well selected for quality. I heard most of the afternoon entertainment on the beautiful stage in Kapualani park and enjoyed it. It range from hula and traditional Hawaiian music to current day Hawaiian Reggae. But I mostly enjoyed looking at the stars of the show – the varied lei made from every and all natural materials. The line to see these up close is long, hot and slow, but well worth it to see and marvel at the imagination and skill put into these works of art. And all are made from plants and flowers found here on Hawaii. Hawaiians take their lei making very seriously, after all, there is an entire day put aside to show them off. Any visitor who is here the first of May should stop by to see these native gems.

Video: lots of aloha in song, dance and love.


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