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What is Lei Day?

If there’s one time of the year when you need to be in Hawaii, it’s during Lei Day. Lei Day in Hawaii is nothing short of a feast – for the eyes, for the heart, for the soul. Everybody around you is sure to be decked out in their holiday best, and everywhere you see, people will be sporting the famous Hawaiian lei. A lei is the garland of flowers and leaves (and sometimes, shells, feathers, and nuts) that people in Hawaii wear around their necks – traditionally for greeting and farewell, but also as a celebration, a way of showing that someone or something is special. Lei Day is a day in May set aside to celebrate the lei and the customs surrounding it, and the history of Lei Day is an interesting tale, as you’ll find out below.

Here’s how Lei Day originated
The first time Lei Day was celebrated was in 1928, when Don Blanding, a local writer and poet, suggested the idea of celebrating a holiday to honor the Hawaiian tradition of making and wearing Lei. The idea caught on like wild fire, and Grace Tower Warren, another writer, suggested that the first of May would be a great day to make the Lei celebration, in tandem with May Day in the rest of the world. And so, that year, in 1928, the first Lei Day was celebrated amid a lot of fun and colors, with lei stalls all around the place, lei-making competitions, and lei tutorials and workshops. The music never stopped, and people danced the hula with all the joy in the world.

Making Lei Day official
In 1929, the state of Hawaii officially recognized Lei Day as a holiday. Since then, the holiday has been celebrated each year, except during the years of the Second World War.

Lei Day celebrations today
Today, Lei Day celebrations begin at nine in the morning every May 1st. The fun and festivities extend up to the evening, with people celebrating the spirit of aloha by gifting lei to each other. Children put up stalls to raise funds for school projects, and each island makes leis from the flowers that represent those islands. On Hawaii itself – known as the Big Island – the most popular flower is the lehua blossom, which is a red bloom from the ohia tree. In Maui, the signature flower is the pink Lokelani. The island of Molokai has the green Kukui flower as its special blossom, Oahu is filled with the golden-colored Ilima flower, which is used to make leis in that island, while Kahoolawe has Hinahina, a silver-gray flower, as its lei flower, and Kauai has mokihana, a beautiful green blossom. On Niihau, uniquely, the ‘flower’ used in leis is actually a shell called Pupu. Because of this incredible variety in the flora in the islands, Lei Day celebrations always turn out to be colorful affairs with a lot of vibrant displays all around.

More about Lei Day
It’s considered impolite to refuse a lei, because when someone presents a Lei to you, they have infused a part of themselves into the garland – it’s for this reason that the people in the islands do not remove a lei in front of the person who gifted it. Lei Day captures so much about what makes Hawaii beautiful – so if you’re wondering where to go on your May Day vacation this year, why not make a trip to Hawaii? After all, May Day is Lei Day!

 

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