Lei Image Courtesy Joel
Perfect spring weather, fragrant flowers sewn into colorful garland lei and the sounds of Hawaiian music on Kauai can only mean one thing – it’s May Day in Hawaii! Held on May 1 each year, May Day is a statewide celebration of the aloha spirit and the giving of the flower lei. A famous song captures the essence of May Day best, “May Day is Lei Day in Hawaii, garlands of flowers everywhere, all of the colors in the rainbow, maidens with blossoms in their hair.”
It is unknown when the tradition of giving lei began; it was believed to be a custom with the original Hawaiians, who presented lei of nuts, seeds, shells, leaves, and flowers as offering to the gods. In 1927, writer Don Blanding realized that the act of giving a lei was being embraced all over the world and encouraged the local newspaper to urge their readers to give and wear a lei on May 1 to honor the Hawaiian culture and rejoice in being so fortunate to live in paradise. The idea was so popular and well received that it officially became known as Lei Day in 1929 and a celebration was held in downtown Honolulu. Over the next few years, the celebration outgrew its original location in downtown Honolulu and moved to Queen Kapiolani Park in Waikiki. Today, thousands of people still gather at Queen Kapiolani Park for hula exhibition, lei exhibits and sharing of the Hawaiian culture.
May Day is highly anticipated each year by the people of Hawaii and visitors who plan their entire trip around the festivities. Throughout the Hawaiian Islands, May Day celebrations have evolved to include beautiful parades, lei contests and the appointing of a royal court. Even the schools celebrate May Day, with children of all grade levels learning the proper protocol for welcoming the royal court and performing hula. Each of the eight main Hawaiian Islands are represented on the royal court by color and type of flower that is worn; being selected to be on the royal court, or even being named a king or queen, is a huge honor that is taken very seriously by being a good example for peers and a good student in school.
You can even experience an authentic May Day celebration here in Poipu!
The Marriott Waiohai Beach Club holds May Day each year with its own royal court, hula and craft fair. In Lihue, the Kauai Museum holds its annual Lei Day contest. These leis are not your average orchid or plumeria lei; the skill and imagination woven into each lei is truly a sight to be seen. Many of our hotels offer lei sewing lessons for free or a small fee if you want to try your hand at making a lei yourself, contact your concierge on dates and times for lessons.
Just as convenient, stop by Blue Orchid Floral Design in Koloa Town for a special fresh flower lei. A full service florist shop, they have a great variety of flower lei, including the rare strands of the maile vine, the fragrant buds of the pikake blossom and the intricately woven colorful orchids. Even if you aren’t visiting on May Day, you can still have a blast dressing up like the locals with a flower lei from Blue Orchid.
Visitors are encouraged to take part in May Day festivities on Kauai. Although it may be intimidating at first, honoring someone with a lei will make a person feel special and appreciated. Here’s a couple etiquette tips to remember when participating in a May Day celebration or just giving a lei:
- When offering a lei to a person, always remember to drape (not throw) the lei around the neck of a person and rest it on their shoulders
- It is customary to give a person a kiss on the cheek or hug when presenting the lei
- If you are fortunate enough to receive a lei as well, make sure to continue to wear your lei while in the presence of the giver
With May Day just around the corner, we look forward to welcoming you soon to Poipu, Kauai!