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Arts & Culture

The Origins of May Day


Lei is the most recognizable symbol of Hawaii.  An expression of Aloha worn by both men and women, these wreath of flowers and foliage add beauty to island life.


May Day in Hawaii brings together Hawaiian history through song and dance as it provides a modern-day pageantry.  Most schools in Hawaii have some type of May Day program.  The May Day Royal Court represents the royal monarchy of the past where the prince / princesses dress up in their island colors and island lei, and a king and queen of the court is selected and honored.


In 1927, writer Don Blanding, originally from Oklahoma, and Honolulu Star Bulletin newspaper writer Grace Tower wrote an article honoring the tradition of the Lei and from this article, the first Lei Day was celebrated on May 1, 1928.


The different Hawaiian Islands are represented through the following flowers and colors)


Maui – Lokelani – a PINK Damask Rose

Oahu – ’Ilima – a type of YELLOW hibiscus known as the “royal lei” worn in the past by high chieftains.

Molokai – Kukui – made with silvery GREEN leaves

Lanai – Kauna’oa – made with thin, light ORANGE strands of vine, gathered and twisted together.

Kahoolawe – Hinahina – a silver GRAY beach plant endemic to Hawaii

Kauai – Mokihana – PURPLE berries found only on Kauai

Niihau – WHITE pupu shell lei (similar to tiny seashells)

Island of Hawaii – RED Lehua Blossom from the Ohia Tree


Here are some tips to remember when offering or receiving a lei:

  • Always remember to drape the lei around the neck of the person – not throw the lei
  • If you are fortunate to receive a lei, be sure to continue to wear the lei when in the presence of the giver.
  • Refusing a lei is seen as disrespectful.


Please tag us @halekulanihotel if you would like to share an interesting May Day is Lei Day memory or if you have received a beautiful lei.  We are celebrating Lei Day all month of May!


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