In early 1928 writer and poet Don Blanding wrote an article in a local paper suggesting that a holiday be created centered around the Hawaiian custom of making and wearing lei. It was fellow writer Grace Tower Warren who came up with the idea of a holiday on May 1 in conjunction with May Day. She is also responsible for the phrase, "May Day is Lei Day." If you are ever on Oahu on May 1, you'll get to experience this Hawaiian holiday first-hand for yourself.
The first Lei Day was held on May 1, 1928, and everyone in Honolulu was encouraged to wear lei. Festivities were held downtown with hula, music, lei making demonstrations and exhibits and lei making contests.
The Honolulu Star-Bulletin reported, "lei blossomed on straw and felt hats, lei decorated automobiles, men and women and children wore them draped about their shoulders. To the city Kamehameha's statue extended a garland of maile and plumeria, which fluttered in the wind from its extended hand. Lei recaptured the old spirit of the islands (a love of color and flowers, fragrance, laughter and aloha)."
In 1929, Lei Day was made an official holiday in the territory, a tradition which was interrupted only during the years of World War II, and which continues today.
On O`ahu, Lei Day festivities are centered in Queen Kapi`olani Park in Waikiki. As is tradition, the dozens of entries in the annual contest are placed at the Royal Mausoleum in Nuuanu the next morning. The City & County of Honolulu, Department of Parks & Recreation has details of the 2013 Lei Day Events including the investiture ceremony for the 2013 Lei Queen & her court.
Lei Day celebrations are not just confined to O'ahu. There are festivals and celebrations found on all of the major Hawaiian islands.
On Hawai'i Island, the Big Island, the 9th Annual Hilo Lei Day Festival will take place on May 1 from 10:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. The festival takes place in Kalakaua Park and features live music, hula, craft demonstrations and information on seed saving and preserving native plants.
Many celebrations are also held at local schools. Elementary schools hold celebrations crowning Lei Day kings, queens and princesses, such as occurred in 2005 at the Barbers Point Elementary School.
NEXT PAGE > Each Island Has Its Own Lei