May Day is Lei Day in Hawai’i
Posted on May 1, 2010 by Kris Nelson
Alooooha! May Day/Lei Day are special traditions in Hawai’i, an homage to Hawaiian and Polynesian culture.
The first Lei Day was held on May 1, 1928. In 1929, Lei Day was made an official holiday, interrupted only during the years of World War II.
So the bright idea I presented was, ‘Why not have a lei day?’ Let everyone wear a lei and give a lei. Let it be a day of general rejoicing over the fact that one believed in a Paradise. Let it be a day for remembering old friends, renewing neglected contacts with the slogan ‘Aloha,’ allowing that flexible word to mean friendliness on that day.
Lei day is so appropriately linked with the inner life of Hawai‘i that it should become an established ceremony… No heart but must beat softer and gentler under the floral chain upon its breast. It symbolizes the memory line between smiles and tears. It chants welcome and farewell. And it pleads with low-voiced eloquence to be remembered… having been born of love, the day should be immortal.
Each year it should bloom as nature blooms in the springtime around the earth to make glad the heart of man. ‘Wear a lei give a lei’ was the pledge.”
— Don Blanding, writer/poet and founder of Lei Day
Growing up in Hawai’i often means learning to respect many different cultures. For May Day, students of native Hawaiian ancestry comprise the King, Queen, and their Royal Court — a Prince and Princess representing each island, decked out in their island color and flower (i.e: the Big Island’s color is red and their flower is the lehua/’ohi’a blossom).
Select students from each grade level perform various cultural rituals from the Tahitian haka to Maori e papa to modern Top40 grooves, to entertain the Court, just like in monarchial Hawai’i. I was super coordinated in my youth, so over the years, I was always placed in the front row, much to the delight of my parents, who got to snap many embarrassing photos of me dancin’ my tushie off. It was fun! In sixth grade, I was chosen to co-emcee the entire ceremony… also fun!
One year, our High School included other ethnicities in the grand procession, to proffer gifts to the Royal Court. I was chosen by my peers to represent Japan and got to wear a pretty kimono and hair bobbly thangs, a departure from my usual preppy-ness.
Enjoy these cool May Day videos from various schools, eras, countries: