The Meaning Behind “Lei Day” in Hawaii

“ May Day is Lei Day in Hawai‘i Garlands of flowers everywhere All of the colors in the rainbow Maidens with blossoms in their hair Flowers that mean we should be happy Throwing aside a load of care Oh, May Day is Lei Day in Hawai‘i May Day is happy days out here!”Leonard “Red” Hawk and Ruth Hawk

The idea of Lei Day originated from a writer for the Honolulu Star Bulletin  Don Blanding had the idea that “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 lived 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.”

The custom of weaving and wearing flower leis originated with the Hawaiians so long ago that they have no record of its beginning. When tourists discovered Hawaii, they loved the charming gesture and they spread the word of it until the lei became known around the world. In 1929 Lei Day received official recognition, and continues to be marked by celebrations ranging from simple giving / receiving of lei between family and friends, to free celebrations at Kapi’olani Park with live music, performances and lei demonstrations.

As Princess Kawananākoa explained to Blanding those many years ago, a lei is more than a garland of flowers hastily bought and carelessly given. She said that it should be made by the giver with much thought and consideration of color combination, fragrance, and design.

Lei also are more than flowers sewn on a strand. There are lei of seeds, shells, feathers, and even words. A special song composed for a loved one can be a lei. But all of them are a tangible expression of aloha, and as such are given to show love, joy, or sympathy, and as greetings and farewells.

In fact, poetically, a child is called a lei, because the child is the weaving together of the love of his or her parents and ancestors.

In modern times, a lei is often given with a kiss with origins dating back to World War II. The story is goes a hula dancer at one of the USO clubs was dared by her girlfriends to kiss a handsome young officer. She met the challenge by going up to him and giving him her lei, saying, “It is our custom to give a kiss with a lei.” Thus a new “ancient” custom was born.

Lei’s can be found all over the island. The lei stands at the airport are iconic and perfect place to stop and grab a lei while waiting for family to arrive or before homecoming. The NEX also sells leis and takes custom orders. If you have school age children be prepared to be bask in cuteness overload with May Day performances at school.

Whether you are stationed at sunny Pearl Harbor or humid Virginia Beach make a lei, wear a lei, or give a lei and celebrate Lei Day! 

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