May Day Is Lei Day in Hawaii

Travel Blog  •  Pam Mandel  •  04.27.09 | 2:39 PM ET

May 1, 1928, was the first Lei Day, the holiday that celebrates the Hawaiian tradition of making and wearing leis. Island festivities include lei-making contests and Prom King and Queen-like coronations. After the contests are over, the leis are taken to the tombs of the ali’i—the Hawaiian royalty—and left there as offerings. I’m more than a little delighted to be arriving in Kaua’i just in time for the island’s Lei Day festivities. There’s a rather nice video montage of some older and new Lei Day photos here:

It used to be that visitors to the islands received leis upon their arrival; now it’s more likely you’ve paid for a “lei greeting” as part of your hotel package. At some of the nicer places in the islands, a host or hostess will drop a fuchsia-colored plumeria lei around your neck when you check in.

Whenever I smell plumeria, I think of the islands and the lei that I tossed into the surf when we last left Kona. We still have the kukui nut lei that my husband wore when we got married on Maui, though the leaves have gone dry and brittle. My white ginger lei we had to leave behind; it was too delicate to travel.

There are a few things to know if you have the good fortune to be presented with a lei. Don’t ever turn one down; that’s bad manners. Don’t take it off in front of the person who gave it to you; that’s bad form, too. Don’t throw a lei in the trash, ever—better to let it fall apart hanging from a tree or toss it into the surf, hoping that it will wash up on the beach, meaning you’ll return to Hawaii.

Hey, it worked for me. Beautifully, I’d say.

Pam Mandel is a freelance writer and photographer from Seattle, Washington. Her work has appeared in a variety of print, radio, and web publications and she's contributed to two guidebooks, one on British Columbia and one on Hawaii. She plays the ukulele, has an internal beacon that is surprisingly capable of locating the best baked goods in town, almost any town, and speaks German with a Styrian accent. Learn more on her personal blog at Nerd's Eye View.

1 Comment for May Day Is Lei Day in Hawaii

paulettefromhawaii 04.27.09 | 11:07 PM ET

Lei Day is very special as you wrote.. I have lived and worked on the islands for 33 years now.. I learned how to make leis and dance the Kahiko (ancient hula).  The Merry Monarch Festival ,  in April,  is a fabulous array of leis, and dancing of Hula.. takes place in Hilo, Hawaii.. another great preservance of the culture here.. Aloha from Oahu.

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