Lei Day in Hawaii – What is it about?

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Lei Day – picture source hawaii home

Did you know today, May 1st, is celebrated as Lei Day in Hawaii? No one in this household did!

I read about it being Lei day today on the internet, and got my boys to search about what it meant. And within minutes, they came back with some facts.

So just in case, you are like me, and want to know more about it, here are a few facts.

History of Lei

Leis are one of the most recognizable symbols of Hawaii.

The lei custom was introduced to the islands by the early Polynesian travelers. Wearing these was way of distinguishing oneself from the others. They made these lei not just with Orchids, Plumeria and other blooms but also with the available shells, bones, seeds, leaves and feathers. Use of nuts in the lei was restricted to the royalty.

Today, lei embodies the spirit of aloha — a welcoming embrace that comes with a colorful garland of fresh flowers. Lei are also worn important occasions like births, deaths, victories, religious ceremonies and graduations.

The Origin of ‘Lei Day’

Lei captures the spirit of the Hawaii islands: its colors, flowers, fragrance and aloha.

Probably that was in his mind when in 1928 writer and poet Don Blading wrote an article about marking a day that centered around the Hawaiian custom of making and wearing lei.

Another writer Grace Tower Warren came up with the idea of celebrating it on May Day, May 1. She also coined the phrase “May Day is Lei Day.” Thus, the first Lei day was celebrated on May 1, 1928, and people in Honolulu were encouraged to wear lei. In 1929, Lei Day became an official holiday, and the tradition continues, interrupted only during World War II.

Celebration of Lei Day

Many festivities are held across the island to mark this special day. Festivities include Hawaiin music, Hula as well as lei-making demonstrations. These festivals are free to public, local as well as visitors and the transcend generations.

Many schools hold celebrations crowning Lei Day Queens and Kings.

Each of the 8 primary islands of Hawaii has its own official Lei.

Hawaii: Red Ohia Lehua

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Ohia Lehua Flower – picture source: flickr

These grow on trees that can be 100 feet high, growing on the slopes of the volcanoes. The Lehua flowers are said to be sacred to the Volcano goddess, Pele.

Maui: Pink Lokelani

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Lokelani Flower – picture source: tourmaui

First brought to the island in the 1800s, it is prized for its sweet scent and beautiful color.

Oahu: Yellow Ilima

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Yellow Ilima- Picture Source: pinterest

Oahu is best known as the home of Hawaii’s capital city, Honolulu. Yellow Ilima is a small flower, velvety and delicate. In ancient Hawaii it was used for medicinal purpose, especially for pregnant women.

Kauai: Green Mokihana berry

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Mokihana – Picture source – pinterest

The Green Mokihana is a berry, known for its spicy smell, similar to anise. The native plant is found only on Mt. Waialelae, and has a long lasting fragrance.

Molokai: Kukui

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Kukui – picture source: aboutmauinui

The small, white flowers have long been used in leis. The nuts from the tree were used by the ancient Hawaiins as candles.

Lanai: Orange-Yellow Kaunaoa

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Kaunaoa – picture source: statesymbolsusa

The plant grows on the beaches of the island, and gets its nutrients from the air.

Kahoolawe: Hinahina

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Hinahina – picture source:hawaiinforest

The smallest of the eight main islands, is inhabited by humans. Found on its beaches are the Hinahina plants, the stems and flowers of this silver-gray plant are braided together to make leis.

Niihau: Pupu

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Pupu shell – Picture source: statesymbolsusa

Pupu shells found on the beaches of this rocky island are pierced and strung on cords to for lei.

Till we meet Hawaii.. Aloha!

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