May Day is Lei Day in Hawaii

By Lacy Varner

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 what day of the week May 1 falls on, the Lei Day Celebration takes place at Queen Kapiolani Park in Waikiki. The event features live music, a 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 reside over the festivities.  Lei Queen are selected based on their lei making skills, hula proficiency, and Hawaiian language fluency.

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

Expect to see the most beautiful lei in the world at the annual Lei Day lei competition held and displayed at the park.  The lei are later taken and lovingly placed at Mauna ‘Ala, the Royal Mausoleum.  Also expect excellent live music by some of Hawaiʻi’s top performers.  See the 2017 line up below.

May Day Waikiki

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

A great new May Day event is being held on Waikiki Beach, fronting The Royal Hawaiian: A Luxury Collection Resort and the Outrigger Waikiki Beach Resort. May Day Waikiki, now in its 4th year, will take place on Monday, May 1, 2017, with free canoe rides from 10 a.m. – 12 p.m. and a program and live music concert beginning at 3 p.m. with a helicopter drop and an honoring of 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! Visit @MayDayWaikiki on Facebook for more information.

May Day Waikiki celebrates the colorful history and traditions of Waikiki, including surfing, canoe rides and Hawaiian music, hula and culture.

Celebrate May Day on Maui

Another tradition to stem from this holiday is the annual Cazimero Lei Day Concert. Iconic, contemporary Hawaiian musician, Robert Cazimero have been putting on this annual concert in the state to sold out crowds for over 30 years. Performances rotate between the islands, so if you’re interested in attending, be sure to research ahead of your trip.

For this year’s May Day, Robert Cazimero and his award winning hula dancers will be performing at the Maui Arts & Cultural Center on Sunday, April 30, 2017. The show starts at 7:30 p.m.

Also on Maui is the Lei Day Heritage Festival at The Bailey House Museum at 2375A Main St, Wailuku on Monday, May 1, 2017 from 10 a.m. – 4 p.m.  This is a free community event featuring a lei contest, food (at cost) and live music.

Celebrate May Day on Hawaii Island

On the Big Island, the annual Lei Day Festival is usually held in Hilo at the Kalakaua Park, 150 Kalakaua St., Hilo from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.  There are live lei making demonstrations at the historic site in downtown Hilo. The event is cancelled for 2017, however, with plans to resume in 2018.

Celebrate May Day on Kauai

On Kauai, the annual Lei Day Festival has moved from the Kauai Museum to the Kauai Marriott.   The event takes place on Monday, May 1, 2017 from 11 a.m. to 4 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.  

On May 13, 2017 you can enjoy the May Day by the Bay cultural celebration in beautiful Hanalei from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.  Admission is just $5.  Ages 5 and under are free.

Make Your Own Haku Lei

Click here to learn how to make your own lei.

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