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May Day is Lei Day in Hawaii Nei

This Wednesday, May 1, 2024, marks the 96th annual May Day celebration in Hawaii. Every year on the first of May, Hawaii locals and visitors alike don colorful lei and share in the spirit of aloha with hula performances, lei-making demonstrations, lei contests, entertainment and more.

Additionally, most elementary schools across Hawaii celebrate May Day with traditional and modern hula performances and a May Day court, with each grade level representing a different Hawaiian Island by wearing that island.

2024 May Day Events on Oahu

Free Lei-Making workshops

Get ready for May Day when you attend a free lei-making workshop Tuesday, April 30, 2024. See times and locations below:

  • Enchanted Lake Community Park, 770 Keolu Dr, Kailua, HI 96734 |1 - 4:30 p.m., with Jennifer Lee (808.768-6839) | Ages 5+
  • Kaneohe District Park, 45-660 Keaahala Rd, Kaneohe, HI 96744 | 2 - 6 p.m., with Shari Ah Yat (808.768-8991) | Ages 6+
  • Pacific Palisades Community Park, 2282 Auhuhu St, Pearl City, HI 96782 | Multiple Sessions, with Anna Davis (808.768-6793) 
    • 8:30 - 9:30 a.m. | Ages 18+ | Kīpuʻu style
    • 9:30 - 10:30 a.m. | Ages 18+ | Wili style
    • 10:30 - 11:30 a.m. | Ages 18+ | Ku style
    • 2:30 - 3:30 p.m. | Ages 7-12 | Kui and kīpuʻu style
    • 3:30 - 4:30 p.m. | Ages 13-17 | Kui and kīpuʻu style
Descriptions of lei styles from Kamehameha Schools.

96th Lei Day Celebration

Stop by Kapi‘olani Park in Waikiki, Oahu, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Wednesday, May 1, 2024, and enjoy a variety of free entertainment. The theme of this year’s Lei Day, "Komo mai kāu māpuna hoe" (Dip your paddle in), invites attendees to delight in the artistry of Hawai‘i’s lei makers and performances from hula halau.

The following is the schedule of events at the bandstand:
  • 9 a.m. - 9:45 a.m. Royal Hawaiian Band 
  • 10 a.m. - 10:45 a.m. Kilohana Hula Show by Council for Native Hawaiian Advancement
  • 11 a.m. - 12:30 p.m. Lei Court Ceremony 
  • 1 p.m. - 1:35 p.m. Ei Nei 
  • 1:50 p.m. - 2:25 p.m. Hōkū Zuttermeister 
  • 2:50 p.m. - 3:25 p.m. Hoʻokena 
  • 3:40 p.m. - 4:10 p.m. Mana Maoli Youth Collective 
  • 4:10 p.m. - 4:45 p.m. Hālau Hula ʻO Hokulani 

2024 Lei Queen Tehina Kaʻena Kahikina and her court, First Princess Angela Jeanell Cezar Miranda, Princess Shailyn Makana Marie Wilson, Princess Madison Kamalei Espinas, Princess Sara Noʻeau Campbell and Princess Lulani Kaehulaniokekai Chung-Kuehu, will reign over this year’s festivities, including the Lei Contest Exhibit, which showcases some of the world’s most exquisite handcrafted lei in a variety of materials, colors and styles. The public will have an opportunity to experience the exhibit from 1 p.m. to 4:45 p.m., following the judging of the lei and the official opening of the exhibit by the Lei Court.

Additionally, artists will perform Hawaiian music from 10 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. in the Lei Exhibit, and Hawaiian artisans will share their talents and skills in the nearby Kūlana Lei village. Vendors and event sponsors offering crafts, lei, and food will be available throughout the celebration. The closing ceremony for the annual Lei Day Celebration is held on the morning of May 2 at Mauna ‘Ala (The Royal Mausoleum) at 9 a.m., and at Kawaiāha‘o Church at approximately 10:15 a.m. During these events, lei from the Lei Contest are placed on the graves of Hawai‘i’s ali‘i (royalty). The public is also invited to attend these events.

History of May Day in Hawaii

Photo courtesy of History Education Hawaii News.

In 1927, the Honolulu Star-Bulletin published an article written by Don Blanding, a poet from Oklahoma, which suggested creating a new holiday centered around the Hawaiian custom of wearing and making lei. 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 “Kama'aina Kolumn” columnist Grace Warren. Enthusiastically embracing the idea, Warren suggested the name "May Day" and coined the phrase "May Day is Lei Day." Leonard “Red” and Ruth Hawk, inspired by the new holiday, composed "May Day is Lei Day in Hawaii" in 1928 for the first Lei Day festival. This song resonates throughout every Lei Day celebration in the State of Hawaii, with its memorable lyrics:

May Day is Lei Day in Hawaii / Garlands of flowers everywhere / All of the colors in the rainbow / Maidens with blossoms in their hair / Flowers that mean we should be happy / Throwing aside a load of care / Oh, May Day is Lei Day in Hawaii / May Day is happy days out there

May Day, 1953. Photo courtesy of Kohala Public Library Archives.

Which Flowers Represent the Hawaiian Islands?

A special flower represents each of the Hawaiian Islands.

  • Maui - Lokelani, a pink Damask rose brought to Hawaii in the early 1800s.
  • Oahu - Pua 'ilima, a type of yellow hibiscus.
  • Molokai - Kukui, which is green.
  • Lanai - Kaunao, which is orange.
  • Kahoolawe - Hinahina, a silvery beach plant endemic to Hawaii.
  • Kauai - Mokihana, a green berry.
  • Niihau - Pupu, not a flower but "tiny seashells."

Which Lei Represents Each Hawaiian Island?

  • Maui - Lokelani lei, a sweetly scented and fragile pink flower arrangement.
  • Oahu - A yellow, fragile lei made from the ilima flower, often called the “royal lei,” because in ancient Hawaiian times it was worn by high chieftains.
  • Molokai - Kukui lei, made mostly with silvery green leaves. 
  • Lanai - Kaunaoa lei, made of thin, light orange strands of vine, gathered in groups, twisted together and then shaped. 
  • Kahoolawe - Hinahina lei, made of hinahina stems and flowers, twisted together and then shaped. 
  • Kauai -A fragrant lei made of purple berries found only on Kauai. 
  • Niihau - White pupu shell lei, made by piercing the shells with small holes and stinging together with vine. 

Happy May Day from Locations!