JUNE 1, 2019


May Day is Lei-Day in Hawaii, A Special Day

by Elpidio R. ESTIOKO

Before we end the month of May, I need to run this column to pave the way for a very important Hawaiian culture falling on the month of May: Lei-Day! I will be doing injustice to the people of Hawaii if I miss it. This will also be a very important piece of information to tourists visiting our island paradise.

I didn’t know lei-making is an important part of Hawaiian culture until we attended a Luau Party at Paradise Cove last year. Yes, I heard of May Day, but I never associated it with anything else until somebody told me May Day is the Hawaiian equivalent of Lei-Day on the 1st day of May. This is the day people celebrate the islands’ culture with lei-making contests, Hawaiian food and music, and even the crowning of the Lei Queen.

At the luau party, one of the features was lei-making conducted by native Polynesians. My children (May, Tweety, and Paul), who are members of a halau (hula dance group) in Santa Clara, California, pulled me; my wife Delia; my son-in-law Jonathan; my eldest daughter Gigi who is from Sydney, Australia who was vacationing with us in Hawaii; and my other son Jayson who is not a member of any hula group, out from the crowd and went to witness the session being conducted by early descendants making leis and teaching people to make leis. It was fun and we managed to learn the rudiments of lei-making and how it originated and became ingrained in the Hawaiian culture. We were later joined by my eldest son Jojo, his wife Alvi and their children Kayla and Bibay who are from Jacksonville, Florida also vacationing with us in Hawaii. The whole family enjoyed the activities which ended just in time for the luau party to begin.

May Day is Lei Day in Hawaii, a special day popularized by writer and poet Don Blanding who first suggested that a holiday should be dedicated to the beautiful Hawaiian tradition of making and wearing lei. But it was Grace Tower Warren, also a writer, who came up with the idea that the holiday should coincide with May Day. Since the first Lei Day was on May 1, 1928, Hawaii has continued the annual celebration to this very day.

Oahu hosted the state’s largest Lei-Day event this year. No matter which day of the week May 1 falls on, the Lei-Day celebration takes place at Queen Kapiolani Park in Waikiki. The annual event featured live music, a stunning lei contest exhibit, hula performances, demonstrations, craft and food vendors, and more. This event was free and open to the public.

Each year, the Lei Queen and her court preside over the festivities. Lei Queens are selected based on their lei making skills, hula proficiency, and Hawaiian language fluency. People saw the most beautiful lei in the world at the annual Lei Day competition held and displayed at the park. Also played were excellent live music by some of Hawaii’s top performers. This year’s 92nd Annual Lei Day Celebration was celebrated from 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.

May Day on Waikiki Beachshowed Keiki (children) dancing hula, a great May Day event right on Waikiki Beach, fronting The Royal Hawaiian: A Luxury Collection Resort and the Outrigger Waikiki Beach Resort. May Day Waikiki, now in its 6th year, took place on Wednesday, May 1, 2019, with a live music concert featuring Henry Kapono and Friends from 4p.m. – 7 p.m. It began with a helicopter flower drop honoring the Waikiki Beach boys. The event was free to the public.

Lei-Day was likewise celebrated in Maui.The Lei-Day Heritage Festival at Hale H??ike?ike at the Bailey House (formerly The Bailey House Museum) at 2375A Main St., Wailuku on May 1, was held from 10 a.m. – 4 p.m. This was a free community event that featured a lei contest, food (at cost) and live music.

May Day on Hawaii Island, on the Big Island of Hawaii, was held in Hilo at the Kalakaua Park, 150 Kalakaua St., Hilo from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Lei making demonstrations were held at this historic site nestled within downtown Hilo.

Likewise, May Day was celebrated in Kauai.On Kauai, the historic 39th Annual Lei-Day Festival returned to its new home at the Kauai Marriott. The event took place on May 1, from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. There were lei-making contests and people learned to make a lei, or win a lei to take home. There were also food vendors and live music. This special event showcased the Walter & Irmalee May Day lei contest which honored Dana Valeriano Kaua Iki Olores in the Marriott Puna Court.

I remember when we arrived at the Daniel K. Inouye International Airport (Honolulu), my daughter Tweety and son-in-law Jonathan,who settled in Mililani, Oahu, HI after their June wedding last year, received us at the airport’s baggage area and presented us leis of fresh orchid’s flowers! Wow, that’s how venerated leis are in the island! I love it!

I also noticed that the leis are a must, whether you are in formal or informal attires/occasions. Leis matter a lot in Hawaiian culture!


ELPIDIO R. ESTIOKO was a veteran journalist in the Philippines and an award-winning journalist here in the US. For feedbacks, comments… please email the author at estiokoelpidio@gmail.com

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