May Day in Hawai’i!

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If you’re looking to learn more about the importance of May Day in Hawaiian culture, you’ve come to the right place! In this blog post, we’ll discuss the history and significance of this special holiday. We’ll also explore some of the traditions that are celebrated by Hawaiians on May 1st. If you’re planning a trip to Hawaii, be sure to mark May 1st on your calendar – it’s definitely worth experiencing!

May Day through the Centuries

In the Celtic tradition, one of the oldest examples of May Day is dancing around the MayPole. A pagan holiday, May Day used to be celebrated with dancing, fertility rituals, and bonfires. Now, May Day is celebrated in a range of different ways around the world. In Hawai’i, though, this special day has come to be an especially important event!

May Day in the US Mainland

For the US mainland, May Day has come to mark a crucial time in the 19th century when worker's rights made a great leap, and May Day came to represent International Workers Day. Prior to this 19th-century shift, there was no limit set on working hours for laborers. On May 1, 1886, representatives for worker's rights declared that "eight hours shall constitute a legal day’s labor..." (History.com). It wasn't legally declared though, which led to massive strikes, and clashes between the government and the people.

Funnily enough, May Day is rarely celebrated in the United States, but it is an official holiday in over 60 other countries!

May Day is Lei Day in Hawaii

In Hawaii, the May Day tradition of wearing lei first started on Lei Day (May 1, 1927) when people wore lei around Downtown Honolulu. Since its humble beginnings, May Day has become a powerful representation of the Aloha Spirit.

Giving and receiving lei is a symbol of friendship, love, welcoming, and celebration. Hawaii high school graduates are often drowning in lei on the day of graduation, as a sign of their family and friends' collected love.

May Day Celebrations in Hawaii

In the Hawaiian islands, there are a number of events and festivals in elementary, middle, and high schools. There are also public events like pageants and parades such as this year's 93rd annual Lei Court event in Honolulu.

May Day Celebrations in Hawaii

You might also see lei around the necks of historic statues around our islands, such as the Duke Statue in Waikīkī and the statue of King Kamehameha during Kamehameha Day. Lei is also used to indicate deference and respect in Hawaiian culture. When giving or receiving a lei, you’re sharing a sense of aloha (love, compassion, affection), lokahi (unity), and being welcomed into our ohana (family). 

Customarily, lei are often made with purple orchids or plumeria flowers. These are the most popular and commonly seen lei. On special occasions, more expensive flowers or adornments are used. Flowers like ginger, which has an amazing smell, puakenikeni, maile, and kukui nut are examples of these lei.  Maile lei is often worn by men during wedding ceremonies, and the gorgeous haku lei are often worn by brides.

Lei are also used to show love and reverence to those who have passed. In a paddle out ceremony, guests will hop onto surfboards, boogie boards, SUP boards, and boats. They’ll choose a designated area to make a circle, and cast the lei into the ocean to celebrate the passing of a loved one.

Welcome to Hawaii

During your visit, you'll likely get lei'd somewhere, whether it's when you arrive at the airport (family members often purchase lei for each other) or maybe when you get to your hotel. If you're attending a special event while you're here in the islands, be sure to bring a lei to celebrate the hosts of the event!