Hawaii MayDay: A Celebration of Lei and Aloha

Hawaii MayDay is Lei Day
Hawaii Aloha Travel > Blog > Hawaii MayDay: A Celebration of Lei and Aloha

Have you ever heard of Hawaii Mayday (or May Day)? This is a day celebrating the custom of giving and receiving lei. It occurs each year on May 1 and is honored at schools, parks, and businesses. 

Today, we’re sharing all about Hawaii Mayday and how you can celebrate it, whether you’re here in the islands or thousands of miles away. 

The Significance of the Hawaiian Lei

In Hawaii, people give lei to welcome someone, honor a special occasion, bid farewell, or share a token of love. A lei is not only a symbol of aloha but also a special gesture of sharing mana (spirit or power) with a loved one (a colleague, friend, parent, or child). 

Hawaiians take great care 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 also give a part of yourself.

The Origins of Lei Day

The first Hawaii MayDay / 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 May 1.

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 and princes to represent each Hawaiian island and to show off the island’s official flower and color. 

Hawaii MayDay Celebrations

The joy and spirit of May Day continue through the islands. On May 1 or each year, you can see the Lei Queen & King, and their court, at Kapiolani Park in Waikiki. In addition to the pageant, there will be Hawaiian artisans, traditional games, lei-making workshops, and music. 

But the celebrations aren’t limited to Kapiolani Park. Hotels and businesses will likely honor Hawaii MayDay by offering special lei-making classes or products for sale. You may also find musical presentations and hula performances at shopping centers and hotels. 

One of the most unique ways May Day is celebrated in Hawaii is at elementary schools. Most schools in Hawaii will have a special presentation where the students dress up, sing songs, and hold a pageant with a king and queen. Parents and grandparents will take off work to watch their keiki (children) perform in the school’s Hawaii MayDay Celebration. 

As for you, if you’re lucky enough to be in Hawaii during May Day, be sure to get (or gift) a lei to honor the occasion. And if you’re not here, you can still fashion your own lei at home. Here is a fun tutorial for making a ribbon lei, a popular craft here in Hawaii. 

Want to make sure you’re in Hawaii for MayDay, or for another festive local holiday? Hawaii Aloha Travel can help plan a custom vacation filled with the unique spirit of the islands. 

And if you want to learn more about Hawaii’s unique leis, check out this article about the rare Niihau Shells and their $30,000 lei