The origins of May Day celebrations can be traced back to ancient rituals mainly in European countries. People wove floral garlands, danced around a May Pole and sang and enjoyed the festivities celebrating the arrival of Spring.
I distinctly remember having to weave ribbons around the May Pole in elementary school.....I never quite knew what that was all about or how that blended with what we traditionally know as May Day festivities in Hawaii .
For many centuries, Native Hawaiians have been making and giving lei as offerings and gifts. A tradition shared in many Polynesian cultures.
I remember watching my grandmother stringing lei for a small local florist that used to be on Kuhio Avenue next to the old Kuhio Theaters (corner of Kuhio & Kalaimoku St) , especially around graduation time.
Lush red or white carnation lei were so popular back then, and had such soft fragrance. Watching my Gramie sew multiple strands of Pikake (Hawaiian jasmine) and Pakalana and inhaling the intoxicating scent. Or the delicate saffron colored ʻIlima , sometimes braided with a strand of Pikake or Pakalana. The musky sweet smell of Puakenikeni and the sweet vibrance of Plumeria. I remember my gramie making me thick double plumeria lei to wear to school on May Day...I always felt so special! There was always a large ceramic bowl on top the refrigerator that had numerous lei needles and balls of string to sew lei.
Whether worn at a memorial service, a wedding, birthday, graduation....or just Friday.... There is no "right " occasion to wear a lei....
In 1927, the artist, author and poet, Don Blading is credited for suggesting May Day, May 1st to be a Hawaiian holiday to celebrate our glorious floral traditions.
93 years later, May Day has evolved and is still a much celebrated tradition. The City & County of Honolulu put on a public Lei Day celebration at Kapiolani Park with lei making demonstrations, lei making contests as well as electing an official Lei Queen and court.
Most schools in the state do some sort of May Day program celebrating Hawaiian culture, hula and song and an also have May Day Queens and courts.
Each island represented by their island color and official flower or similar .
Hawaiʻi : ʻulaʻula (red) - Ōhiʻa Lehua
Maui: ʻākala (pink) -Lokelani (rose)
ʻOahu: melemele (yellow) - ʻIlima
Molokaʻi - ʻōmaʻomaʻo (green) - Kukui
Lanaʻi: ʻalani (orange) - Kaunaʻoa
Kahoʻolawe: hinihina (grey) - Hinahina
Kauaʻi: poni (purple) - Mokihana
Niʻihau: keʻokeʻo (white) - pūpū (shells)
Unfortunately, Covid-19 has forced the State of Hawaii to cancel all public gatherings and the 2020 Lei Day Festival will not happen.
We can still participate in this Hawaiian tradition by stringing a lei or weaving a haku lei, or even buying a lei from one of our islandʻs many lei stands. Perfect to give to that auntie or friend that needs a little aloha ....or to wear ourselves as a pick-me-up.
In honor of May Day, 21ºN is also offering a $25 EGIFT CARD with the purchase of any floral design jewelry.
Some of the pieces are pictured below. Click on the photo for link.
The link below is a lovely youtube about lei in Hawaii