There are Hawaiian-ized names for the months of the year, similar to their English counterparts but adapted to accommodate a language that has only five vowels and twelve consonants. April is “Apelila” in Hawaiian. But the Hawaiian lunar calendar is much more complex, with each of the 28 phases of the moon noted in close detail. Seasonal changes are subtle in Hawaii, nothing like the fertile burst of spring in higher latitudes. But the Hawaiian lunar calendar indicates the changing of the seasons with uncanny accuracy, much as the calendars of other ancient civilizations did (and still do).
Modern Hawaiian cultural practitioners are attuned to the lunar calendar, as were their ancient forebears. The lunar calendar indicates the time for planting and fishing and harvesting, and of when certain cultural practices are to take place. In the lunar calendar, different island have different names for the months, as do fishermen and farmers.
For example, for fishermen in Hawaii, April is known as Welo. For farmers, it’s Hinaiaelele. April is a time for the mahi‘ai (farmer) and lawai‘a (fisherman), when the conditions for planting taro and flowering plants are ideal and when the fishing is good.
Like other cultures around the world, the coming of spring is celebrated in Hawaii. Hawaii’s May Day celebration is known as “Lei Day.” Schools all over the state celebrate Lei Day with games, song, and hula, and it’s something that everyone who grew up in Hawaii remembers vivdly. The air is perfumed with all manner of floral fragrances: plumeria, pua keni keni, pikake. It’s a heady time for Hawaii youngsters, when summer vacation is painfully close yet impossibly far away.
Lei Day was first invented by a Honolulu poet and newspaper columnist in the 1920s. The first official Lei Day was proposed in 1927. Even those who have never been to Hawaii are likely familiar with the Hawaiian song “May Day is Lei Day in Hawaii.”
Even though we don’t have a “spring thaw” or a verdant explosion as the natural world wakes from its winter slumber, we do have ways of welcoming the spring. The Hawaiian lunar calendar is a major factor in that it tells us when certain fish are plentiful and when the earth is at its most fertile.
It’s often said that “it’s always springtime in Hawaii,” and to the casual observer of the weather the sentiment is true. But for those who follow the lunar calendar, spring in Hawaii is as distinct as it is anywhere else in the world.