A Local’s Guide to May Day in Hawaii

As the saying goes, “May Day is Lei Day in Hawai‘i Nei”. May 1 is always a beautiful day of the year filled with tropical flowers and amazing, delicately crafted lei. The Hawaiian lei is a typical symbol of Hawai‘i, just as well-known around the world as aloha shirts, surfing and the traditional hula dance. Lei is a longstanding part of our culture, thus we have this special day to celebrate it, but May Day, goes beyond that and is fun for children and adults alike.

Lei contests and Activities

My favorite part of May Day is getting into the line at Kapi‘olani Park to view all of the entrants into the lei competition. There are lei of all styles separated into different categories and crafted with all sorts of materials. There are also stalls selling sweet smelling lei of all types. After the event, lei are placed at Mauna ‘Ala, the Royal Mausoleum. It’s the perfect way to spend a sunny afternoon.


  • Lei Day Celebration, Kapi‘olani Park, Waikiki (May 1, 2016 9:00 to 17:30) – Lei exhibit and contest; Hawaiian music, food vendors and hula. Lei Day timetable.
  • May Day in Waikiki, Beach in front of Outrigger Waikiki Hotel (May 1, 2016 12:00 to 16:00) – Free canoe rides with the Waikiki Beach Boys and free concerts.
  • Robert Cazimero May Day Concert, Maui Arts & Culture Center (May 1, 2016 19:30) – Hawaiian music and hula performance.
  • May Day at the Volcano, Hawai‘i Volcanos National Park (May 1, 2016 11:00 – 13:00) – Lei making lessons and history, live music, hula at Volcano Art Center Porch.
  • Lei Day Festival, Kaua‘i Museum (May 1, 2016 9:00 to 16:30) – Lei making lessons, food vendors, live music, adult and kids’ lei making contest. (9:00).

How to Make a Haku lei (lei for the head) source: Hawaiian Skies YouTube Channel


Everything about Lei

Maile style ti leaf lei. source: www.hawaiiflowerlei.com
Maile style ti leaf lei pc: Hawaii Flower Lei

The fragrant flower garlands remind me of special occasions like a birthday, wedding or graduation, which are when they are usually given to others. And yes, men also wear lei! Usually with foliage and berries like the kukui nut, mock orange, ti leaf or maile (a vine endemic to the Hawaiian Islands with a wonderful smell), but in Hawai‘i, flowers are not just for women!

As a child, I remember climbing the plumeria tree in our yard or scouring the neighborhood for flowers (depending on the type of lei, it can take a lot of them). It’s a great feeling to see your work draped around a friend or loved ones neck.

  • Today, fresh flower lei can go anywhere from $5 for a basic purple orchid or ti leaf to over $100 for a multi-strand lei.
  • Don’t give a closed lei to a pregnant woman! It’s bad luck for the unborn child.
  • Lei and flowers are scattered into the ocean during many Hawaiian funerals. Obama was recently photographed throwing a lei into the ocean where his Grandmother’s ashes were scattered.
  • At local graduations, students get covered with lei until they can’t see!
  • Lei can be made of almost anything; flowers, foliage, berries, nuts, ribbon, shell or feathers are the most common materials. Some people even receive lei made of candy or money to celebrate their special occasion.
  • The first Lei Day Queen was Nina Bowman, crowned in 1928.
  • The famous song “May Day is Lei Day in Hawai‘i” was released in 1927 by Ruth and Leonard Hawk.
  • Besides the typical lei worn around the neck, there are also haku lei (circling the head), lei worn around a hat and kupe‘e, tied around the wrist or ankles (usually worn by hula dancers).

May Day Celebrations in Schools

Every year schools throughout the state host a special May Day event with a royal court and the Lei Day King and Queen. It’s quite an honor in Hawai‘i to be named the King or Queen. Each member of the royal court represents one of the eight Hawaiian Islands, dressed in their corresponding island color and flower. Children spend many days rehearsing their songs and dances as well as choosing an outfit and stringing their lei. I remember these celebrations well during my time at Kamehameha Schools Kapālama Campus. Students perform mele (song) or hula and the last performance of the day is the hula of the May Day King and Queen, which is always an anticipated affair.

Island Colors and Flowers

Hawaii Island, The Big Island

Color: ‘Ula‘ula (red)

Flower: ‘Ōhi‘a Lehua (Metrosideros macropus)

Maui, The Valley Isle

Color: ‘Ākala (pink)

Flower: Lokelani (Rosa damascena)

O‘ahu, The Gathering Place

Color: Melemele (yellow)

Flower: ‘Ilima (Sida fallax)

Molokai, The Friendly Isle

Color: ‘Ōma‘oma‘o (green)

Flower: Kukui (Aleurites moluccana)

Lāna‘i, The Pineapple Isle

Color: ‘Alani (orange)

Flower: Kauna‘oa (Cuscuta sandwichiana)

Kahoolawe, The Target Isle

Color: Hinahina (silvery gray)

Flower: Hinahina (Heliotropium anomalum)

Kaua‘i, The Garden Isle

Color: Poni (purple)

Flower: Mokihana (Pelea anisata)

Ni‘ihau, The Forbidden Isle

Color: Ke‘oke‘o (white)

Flower: Pūpū (A small white shell. It is the only island with a shell not a plant as its symbol.)

featured image – pc: Re-Lei


Add a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.