Today, May 1, has been dubbed Lei Day in Hawaii, a day to recognize the custom of giving and receiving lei. Lei is not only a symbol of aloha, but it’s a special gesture of sharing mana (spirit) with a loved one (a colleague, friend, parent, child). Great care is taken when gathering the materials and fashioning them into a lei. Because the creator’s mana is woven into each strand, many believe that when you give lei, you are giving a part of you as well.

Lei can be made with many types of pua (flower).

Today, your senses will be overwhelmed by the sweet aroma of fresh flowers like, plumeria or pikake, and you’ll notice almost everyone adorned by the beautiful colors of the islands. You, too, can wear a lei and experience the true meaning of today. Get one from a farmers’ market or a lei stand, or make them yourself. Some hotels offer workshops to learn the art of lei making.

The first Lei Day happened in 1927, thanks to a daily newspaper writer named Don Blanding. He came up with the idea and discussed it with fellow columnist friend Grace Tower Warren. She coined the popular phrase, “May Day is Lei Day,” which was eventually incorporated into a song that now resonates throughout the islands every Lei Day.

Along with this milestone in Hawaiian history came the lei queen and her court. In 1928, the Honolulu mayor crowned Nina Bowman as the first lei queen; every year, the city chooses eight princesses to represent each Hawaiian island and to show off the island’s official flower and color. Till today, you can watch the lei queen and court pageant every Lei Day at Kapiolani Park. Hawaiian music and dance sets the scene, while children and adults partake in lei making contests.

A display of fresh lei at last year’s Lei Day Hawaii celebration.

Be sure to check out the 85th annual Lei Day Hawaii festivity today. The theme is “Sweet Lei of Youth,” or Lei Ui Onaona in Hawaiian. Hawaiian artisans will share their skills with demonstrations, and in celebration of youth, they invite children to join in the fun. In the true Hawaiian spirit of ohana (family), children will not only learn how to make lei, but they’ll hear old Hawaiian stories and play ancient Hawaiian games at Tutu’s Hale (grandma’s house). Tomorrow, the contest lei will be gifted to ancient alii (royalty) that lay resting at Mauna Ala, the Royal Mausoleum. The public may participate by draping lei on the crypts and tombs, as well as embrace the sacred beauty of this special place.

LEI DAY HAWAII 2012 • Celebrate Lei Day with Hawaiian music, dance, crafts and food (Free) • Today, 9am-530pm • Kapiolani Park Bandstand 2805 Monsarrat Ave. Honolulu, HI 96815 •

LEI GIFTING • Public invited to drape contest lei on crypts and tombs of Hawaiian royalty • Tomorrow, 9am • Mauna Ala Royal Mausoleum 2261 Nuuanu Ave., Honolulu, HI 96817

Source: City & County of Honolulu

Photo Credit: Katherine Finch


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