May Day is Lei Day in Hawaii

By Olena Heu
Aunty Amelia Bailey creating a beautiful haku lei. Photo courtesy of Hawaii Tourism Authority (HTA) / Tor Johnson.

Aunty Amelia Bailey creating a beautiful haku lei. Photo courtesy of Hawaii Tourism Authority (HTA) / Tor Johnson.

“May Day is Lei Day in Hawaii Nei.” This popular phrase in the islands prevents anyone from forgetting this special day. It was Don Blanding, a writer and poet, who first suggested that a holiday should be dedicated to the beautiful Hawaiian tradition of making and wearing lei. But it was Grace Tower Warren, also a writer, who came up with the idea that the holiday should coincide with May Day. And so since the first Lei Day on May 1, 1928, Hawaii has continued the annual celebration to this very day.

Celebrate May Day on Oahu

Winning lei at the Annual May Day lei competition. Photo: Joel.

Winning lei at the Annual May Day Lei Contest. Photo: Joel.

Oahu hosts the state’s largest May Day event. No matter which day of the week May 1 falls on, the Lei Day Celebration takes place at Queen Kapiolani Park in Waikiki. The annual event features live music, a stunning lei contest exhibit, hula performances, demonstrations, craft and food vendors, and more. This event is free and open to the public. To check out our photos from previous years’ celebrations, click here.

Left: Maile lei. Center: Ashley Gatto who is originally from Canada, making a haku lei at the Lei day festival. Right: Samples of base materials used for making haku lei. Photos courtesy of Hawaii Tourism Authority (HTA) / Tor Johnson.

Left: Maile lei. Center: Ashley Gatto who is originally from Canada, making a haku lei at the Lei day festival. Right: Samples of base materials used for making haku lei. Photos courtesy of Hawaii Tourism Authority (HTA) / Tor Johnson.


Each year, the Lei Queen and her court preside over the festivities. Lei Queen are selected based on their lei making skills, hula proficiency, and Hawaiian language fluency. Expect to see the most beautiful lei in the world at the annual Lei Day lei competition held and displayed at the park. Also expect excellent live music by some of Hawaii’s top performers. This year’s 92nd Annual Lei Day Celebration is from 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. See the 2019 line up here.

2015 Lei Day Queen Pomaikai Akiona (left) and Princess Whitney Miyahira (right). Photo courtesy of Pomaikai Akiona.

May Day on Waikiki Beach

Keiki (children) dancing hula at May Day Waikīkī. Photo: May Day Waikīkī.

A great May Day event is held right on Waikiki Beach, fronting The Royal Hawaiian: A Luxury Collection Resort and the Outrigger Waikiki Beach Resort. May Day Waikiki, now in its 6th year, will take place on Wednesday, May 1, 2019, with a live music concert featuring Henry Kapono and Friends the entire event spans 4 p.m – 7 p.m. beginning with a helicopter flower drop honoring the Waikiki Beachboys. The event is free to the public and the @MayDayWaikiki Facebook page will be broadcasting live on the day of the event.

May Day on the Great Lawn

This year, Hawaii’s Finest Clothing will celebrate May Day at Bishop Musem by presenting a series of performances by Raiatea, Weldon Kekauoha, Liam Punahele, Na Wai Eha, Na Hoa and Kapena. Along with entertainment, there will be food, workshops, local vendors and lei stands. A portion of the proceeds go towards Punana Leo O Manoa and the Bernice Pauahi Bishop Museum. Doors open at 4 p.m., more information on this free event can be found here.

Celebrate May Day on Maui

The Lei Day Heritage Festival at Hale Hōʻikeʻike at the Bailey House (formerly The Bailey House Museum) at 2375A Main St., Wailuku on May 1, from 10 a.m. – 4 p.m. This is a free community event featuring a lei contest, food (at cost) and live music.

May Day on Hawaii Island

On the Big Island of Hawaii, the annual Lei Day Festival is held in Hilo at the Kalakaua Park, 150 Kalakaua St., Hilo from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. You will see live lei making demonstrations at this historic site nestled within downtown Hilo. For updates visit Hilo May Day Festival on Facebook.

Celebrate May Day on Kauai

On Kauai, the historic 39th Annual Lei Day Festival returns to its new home at the Kauai Marriott. The event takes place on May 1, from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Enter your lei into the contest, learn to make a lei, or win a lei to take home. There will also be food vendors and live music. This special event showcases the the Walter & Irmalee May Day lei contest which honors Dana Valeriano Kaua Iki Olores this year in the Marriott Puna Court. To enter the lei making contest visit this link.

Make Your Own Haku Lei

Click here to learn how to make your own lei.


Lacy Varner contributed to this story.

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