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Celebrating May Day is LEI DAY in Hawaiʻi

May 1st is drawing near, and May Day celebrations are right around the corner. Depending on where you live, you might see a combination of festivities on May Day, including flowers, bonfires, parades, pageants, the Maypole Dance, and the gesture of giving May Baskets.

May Day Kauai

Kauaʻi Photographer – Kit Furderer

If you live in Hawaiʻi or are visiting the islands on May 1, 2024, get ready to celebrate the annual Lei Day Celebrations with lei-making classes, lei competitions, hula, food, entertainment, fun, and more!

May Day 2024 Hawaii

Kauaʻi Photography by Kit Furderer

A brief history of May Day

Before we dive into Hawaiʻi’s Lei Day, let’s take a quick look at the history of May Day. May Day is recognized annually in the Northern Hemisphere on the first day of May and celebrates the transition from winter to spring. According to the Almanac, “Traditionally, it [May Day] was the halfway point between the spring equinox and the summer solstice! In ancient times, this was one of the Celtic cross-quarter days, which marked the midway points between the (four) solstices and equinoxes of the year.” (1)

May Day is an ancient spring festival deeply tied to the fertility of land, soil, seeds, and crops. Ancient Origins says, “It is believed that the celebrations originated in agricultural rituals intended to ensure fertility for crops, held by the ancient Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans.” (2)

The Almanac goes on to say:

As with many early holidays, May Day was rooted in agriculture. Springtime festivities filled with song and dance celebrated the sown fields starting to sprout. Cattle were driven to pasture, special bonfires were lit, and doors of houses as well as livestock were decorated with yellow May flowers. In the Middle Ages, the Gaelic people celebrated the festival of Beltane. Beltane means “Day of Fire.” People created large bonfires and danced at night to celebrate. (3)

The lei lands on Hawaiʻi’s shores

Early Polynesian settlers, traveling from Tahiti in the infamous double-hulled canoes and navigating by the stars, brought the lei with them to the shores of Hawaiʻi. (4) Hawaiʻi Flower Lei describes that:

Leis were constructed of flowers, leaves, shells, seeds, nuts, feathers, and even bone and teeth of various animals. In Hawaiian tradition, these garlands were worn by ancient Hawaiians to beautify themselves and distinguish themselves from others. The Maile lei was perhaps the most significant. Among other sacred uses, it was used to signify a peace agreement between opposing chiefs. In a Heiau (temple), the chiefs would symbolically intertwine the green Maile vine, and its completion officially established peace between the two groups. (5)

Kauaʻi May Day 2024

Kauaʻi Photographer – Kit Furderer

May Day is Lei Day in Hawaiʻi

May Day is a joyous day of celebration in Hawaiʻi. Lei, made with love, are given and received across the islands. It is a big day for elementary schools across Hawaiʻi, with traditional and modern hula performances, a May Day court, and keiki dressed in festive colors to honor the main Hawaiian islands. (6)

The City and County of Honolulu explain how it all began:

Poet laureate, Don Blanding, thought that Hawai‘i should have a day set aside to celebrate and recognize the custom of giving and receiving lei. While working at the Honolulu Star Bulletin, Don discussed the idea with “Kamaʻāina Kolumn” columnist Grace Tower Warren. She enthusiastically embraced the idea and suggested that the day should be May Day and coined the phrase May Day is Lei Day. Inspired by their zeal, Leonard “Red” and Ruth Hawk, a musician, composed May Day is Lei Day in Hawai‘i. This song resonates throughout every Lei Day celebration in the State of Hawai‘i. The first Lei Day was in 1928 and celebrated at the Bank of Hawai‘i in downtown Honolulu. The Honolulu Star Bulletin stated that the throng of people “taxed the capacity of the building.” From keiki to kūpuna, kama‘āina to malihini – it was a day celebrated throughout the islands. (7)

The legacy of the lei took off from here, becoming a sacred art and way of life in the Hawaiian Islands. The art of lei-making is often passed down in the ʻohana for many generations. It has become an iconic symbol of love and aloha, is given and received for many important life milestones, and is popularly prevalent in the Hawaiʻi tourist industry to this day.

What are lei made from & what do they mean?

Lei are most commonly made with flowers but are also comprised of plants and shells. Each island has a specific flower and color traditionally associated with its lei. (8)

Big Island:

  • Color: ‘Ula‘ula (red)
  • Flower: ‘Ōhi‘a Lehua (Metrosideros macropus)
Kauai Lei Day Events

Kauaʻi Photographer – Kit Furderer


  • Color: ‘Ākala (pink)
  • Flower: Lokelani (Rosa damascena)


  • Color: Pala luhiehu (golden yellow) or melemele (yellow)
  • Flower: ‘Ilima (Sida fallax)


  • Color: ‘Ōma‘oma‘o (green)
  • Flower: Kukui (Aleurites moluccana)


  • Color: ‘Alani (orange)
  • Flower: Kauna‘oa (Cuscuta sandwichiana)


  • Color: Hinahina (silvery gray)
  • Flower: Hinahina (Heliotropium anomalum)


  • Color: Poni (purple)
  • Flower: Mokihana (Pelea anisata)


  • Color: Ke‘oke‘o (white)
  • Flower: Pūpū (shell) Ni‘ihau is the only island with a shell and not a flower or plant as its symbol.) (9)

So, what does it mean to give and receive a lei? The City and County of Honolulu depict this sacred exchange perfectly:

The lei known the world over, is a symbol of aloha. Great care is taken into the gathering of the materials to make a lei. After the materials are gathered, they are prepared and then fashioned into a lei. As this is done, the māna (or spirit) of the creator of the lei is sewn or woven into it. Therefore, when you give a lei, you are giving a part of you. Likewise, as you receive a lei, you are receiving a part of the creator of the lei. (10)

Kauai wedding lei

Kauaʻi Photographer – Kit Furderer

How to make your own lei for Lei Day

As Lei Day draws near, attentively gather your materials and bestow them with love, weaving deep appreciation and aloha into your work. Need help figuring out how to make a lei? Check out these instructions from Hawaiʻi Flower Lei:

You can make your own leis from materials found right in your backyard! Literally any flowers, leaves, ferns, etc., may be used to make a lei. For your first time however, you should start with the basic single strand flower lei.

To begin lei making, collect any medium sized flowers you can find – roses, daisies, carnations etc. You’ll need about 50 blossoms to make a 40″ single strand lei. Cut about a 100″ length cotton string, and fold it in half. Tie a large knot at the end of the twine – this will act like a “stopper” for your flowers as you string them. Remember to leave extra string below the knot – you will use this to tie the lei together upon its completion.

In Hawaiʻi, a steel lei needle, usually about 12 to 18 inches in length is used to string flowers, but any large needle will do. Go through the center of the face of the flower straight through to the back. Carefully guide the flowers to the base of the string near the knot – never force the flowers, you can always move them farther down later. You are finished when the lei is approximately 40″ long. You may choose to dress your lei up with a ribbon, or just leave it au natural. (11)

Lei Day Celebrations 2024

This year marks the 96th annual Lei Day Celebration in Hawaiʻi. (12) Trust me when I say there are A LOT (too many to list) of awesome events happening across the Hawaiian islands, so check where you stay, and get on down and celebrate this year’s Lei Day!








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