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The History of "May Day is Lei Day"

In 1927, the Honolulu Star-Bulletin published an article written by Don Blanding, suggesting a holiday that was centered around the Hawaiian custom of wearing and making leis. In his book Hula Moons, Blanding says . . . "The custom of weaving and wearing flower leis originated with the Hawaiians so long ago that they have no record of its beginning... When tourists discovered Hawaii, they loved the charming gesture and they spread the word of it until the lei became known around the world."

"...Hawaii observed all of the mainland holidays as well as those of a number of the immigrant nationalities in the Islands. But there was no day that was peculiarly and completely Hawaii's own; that is none that included all of the polyglot population there."

"So, the bright idea that I presented was, 'Why not have a Lei Day?' Let everyone wear a lei and give a lei. Let it be a day of general rejoicing over the fact that one lived in a paradise. Let it be a day for remembering old friends, renewing neglected contacts, with the slogan 'Aloha,' allowing that flexible word to mean friendliness on that day.”

Blanding discussed the idea with “Kamaaina Kolumn” columnist Grace Warren. Enthusiastically embracing the idea, Warren suggested May Day and coined the phrase "May Day is Lei Day." Leonard “Red” and Ruth Hawk, inspired by their idea, composed May Day is Lei Day in Hawaii. This song resonates throughout every Lei Day celebration in the State of Hawaii. 

Photo courtesy of History Education Hawaii News.

Flowers of the Hawaiian Islands

A special flower represents each of the Hawaiian Islands.

  • Maui's flower is the Lokelani and is pink.
  • Oahu's flower is the golden Ilima and can be seen all across the island.
  • Molokai’s flower is the Kukui which is green.
  • Lanai’s grassy flower is the Kaunao, which is a orange.
  • Kahoolawe’s flower is Hinahina, which has silver/gray across the top.
  • Kauai’s flower is the green Mokihana.
  • Niihau's "flower" is actually a shell called Pupu.

Leis of the Hawaiian Islands

  • Maui's has the lokelani lei. A sweetly scented, and fragile pink flower arrangement.
  • Oahu's lie uses the ilima flower. This yellow, fragile lei is often call the “royal lei” because in ancient Hawaiian times it was worn by the high chieftains.
  • Molokai’s lei is the kukui made mostly with silvery green leaves.
  • Lanai’s has a kaunaoa lei. Thin light orange strands of vine are gathered in groups, twisted together and then shaped.
  • Kahoolawe’s lei is called hinahina, and is found on the beaches. The stems and flowers of this plant are twisted together and then shaped.
  • Kauai’s lei is made from a fragrant purple berry that is found only on this island.
  • Niihau's lei is made with white pupu shells, pierced with small holes and strung together with vine.