If you have been to Hawaii, you know about aloha, an attitude that springs from the heart. The lei, a physical manifestation of aloha, is so beloved throughout the state, it’s given its own special day.
Lei Day in Hawaii is worth planning your trip around. Across the state, residents bring extra aloha and the sweet smell of flowers permeates the air. Baskets overflow with hundreds of tropical blossoms, which guests learn how to thread into lei. At statewide contests, there can be more than four hundred unique lei on display.
No matter what day of the week it is, Lei Day is always celebrated on May 1. It is also the same day as May Day, and many celebrations are called “Lei Day is May Day.”
The lei is a symbol of aloha. Aloha is a heartfelt emotion that is expressed when you put someone’s needs before yours. Aloha always says please and thank you. It’s the way a ticketing agent, hotel receptionist or server sees you. They slow down, listen closely, smile easily.
Kindness, patience and curiosity are hallmarks of aloha. The best way to recognize aloha is by a smile that reaches the eyes. It feels like a warm hug from tutu (grandma), who has all the time in the world for you.
In Hawaii, aloha is a way of life and a way of thinking. Although the word itself is a greeting, farewell or salutation, there is a deeper meaning that is instinctive. Aloha is as natural to Hawaii as the scent of plumerias drifting on the trade winds, or surfers riding the bluest waves. It’s as natural as palm trees turning into silhouettes against a technicolor sunset. Hawaii is the definition of paradise and its people are the definition of aloha.
Aloha reminds us to be kind and to know that we don’t know what the other is going through. Aloha acknowledges that we do the best we can. That we all struggle. Aloha is a great neutralizer. It pushes past our humanity with more than dignity and respect.
Aloha is expressed in many ways, but one of the most striking is with lei. When someone makes a lei, their aloha is woven into the piece. Notice “lei” is not plural. That’s because there’s no “s” in the Hawaiian alphabet. To make lei plural, add “na,” which means “the.”
Lei Day in Hawaii
91st Annual Lei Day Celebration
Kapiolani Park, Waikiki
9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.
Lei Day Celebration Program PDF
May Day on The Great Lawn
Bishop Museum, Kalihi
4:30 to 9 p.m.
- Hawaii Island:
Hula Arts At Kilauea
Volcanoes National Park, Visitors Center
11 a.m. to 1 p.m.
Hilo Lei Day Festival
Kalakaua Park, Hilo
9 a.m. to 3 p.m.
38th Annual Lei Day Competition
Kauai Marriott Resort, Lihue
11 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Na lei are made by hand with materials that are collected by hand. A lei is a garland, or wreath made of flowers, leaves, shells, tusks, teeth, coral, bone, ivory, feathers, berries, nuts, seeds, beads or paper.
A lei maker knows her neighborhood, is friendly with her neighbors, and is an expert in gathering materials. She knows which flower blooms in which month, as well as the best beaches to gather shells. She picks materials with aloha in her heart and the recipient on her mind.
Today, a lei is made by using a needle to string materials onto thread. Traditionally, Hawaiians used the mid-rib of a coconut leaf as a needle, and hau fiber as the thread. Lei were worn at all levels of society, and the more rare or difficult the material, the more meaningful the gift. For example, an exquisite single neck lei is made with hundreds of gold, paper-thin ilima flowers.
In ancient Hawaii, lei were not given indiscriminately. The gift, a significant gesture, carried the aloha, trust and mana (power, spirit) of the person who made it. The value placed on a lei made it customary to disperse, burn or thoughtfully store one after it was worn.
It is common to give a lei to visitors, signifying a sense of welcome and hospitality. Because lei are a symbol of aloha, one is never refused. Recipients bend their head and shoulders forward, and the grantor places it around their neck. A closed lei is worn wide on the shoulders, so it drapes half down the back, and half down the chest. An open lei is worn with the middle of the lei hanging at the neck, the ends draping evenly down the front.
Don Blanding, a poet laureate, and journalist for the Honolulu Star Bulletin, was enamored with the custom of giving and receiving na lei. It was the late 1920s when he talked to his colleague, Grace Tower Warren, columnist for the Kamaaina Kolumn. She coined the phrase May Day is Lei Day and in 1927, it was celebrated in downtown Honolulu for the first time. In the streets, ladies with long black hair wore lei that hung past their knees.
Eventually, one lei came to represent the Hawaiian Islands. It changes each year, and a queen is chosen from princesses who wear a lei made of her island’s flower and color. This year’s May Day is Lei Day theme is Lei Alohi Kea, which means the brilliant white lei, the platinum of kupuna. Lei Day celebrations typically include lei making demonstrations, lei competitions, music and food.
Wearing a fragrant string of aloha around your neck is divine. The smell is intoxicating, as is the heady feeling of aloha. Aloha is Hawaii’s special gift to the world, and a lei represents aloha. When we wear a lei, we wear aloha across our heart.
Hawaii Airport Lei Greetings
Let us greet you with a traditional fresh flower lei upon your arrival, or surprise someone special with this beautiful Hawaiian custom.