May Day Is Lei Day
When you visit us at Grand Wailea, at some point during your stay you’ll no doubt encounter a lei. Perhaps one will be offered by one of our team members, or maybe you’ll craft your own during one of our lei making workshops, but however you come into contact with this iconic Hawaiian adornment, we invite you to take a moment to appreciate its simple beauty and everything it represents.
In fact, lei is held in such high regard that an annual celebration of Hawaiian culture was created revolving around this recognizable garland. Every May 1st, the entire state comes together to celebrate “May Day is Lei Day”. On this special day in May, residents pay tribute to Hawaiian culture and the spirit of aloha in different ways.
Foremost among these is the gifting of lei to one another. It’s common on this day to approach family members, neighbors, friends, and even strangers with a lei in hand—the ultimate gesture of the aloha spirit.
As Kalei 'Uwēko'olani, Grand Wailea’s Cultural Programming Manager and Leadership Educator, puts it, “The lei is more than just something beautiful that rests around your neck. If we were to give a tangible item of our aloha spirit, it would be in the form of a lei. When you make a lei, you put a lot of your aloha—a lot of your spirit, a lot of your love—into it.”
Interestingly, a traditional lei can be made not only from flowers, but also from other materials including leaves, feathers, and even shells and bones. The selection of materials is an important choice because a lei, when gifted to someone, is meant to reflect both the giver and the recipient.
“When you decide to gather materials and begin making a lei, you should have someone in mind, and you cannot make your lei when something is troubling you,” continues Kalei. “Your thoughts must be clear and filled with positive energy and good intentions, as that essence will go into the lei you’re making. It’s this positivity that lies at the heart of the entire day.”
So just how did Lei Day come about?
In 1928, a writer for the Honolulu Star-Bulletin named Don Blanding proposed the idea of creating a holiday celebrating lei. It quickly gained steam, with the Star Bulletin’s society editor, Grace Tower Warren, proposing the idea of holding Lei Day on May Day. And the rest, as they say, is history.
Over the years, the celebration has blossomed into a statewide festival of Hawaiian culture involving the entire community, with each island putting its own twist on the day by showcasing its official flower and color. In the case of Maui, this means that Lei Day features garlands made from the state flower, the Lokelani (also known as the Damask rose), resplendent in pink. Schools put on special plays, parades are organized, impromptu hula performances are held, and—of course—lei are made and shared, so that at the end of the day it seems that every single person’s neck is ringed with flowers, and every island bursts with color and joy.
This year at Grand Wailea, we held our own annual May Day Is Lei Day celebration last Friday (May 13) to expose our guests to this wonderful tradition, share its history and background, and allow guests to celebrate this unique experience with us.
We hosted a flower lei making station where our guests could learn to weave their own authentic lei. We also held a lei contest featuring lei made by our own team members spanning two categories: traditional (made using natural materials) and nontraditional (made using almost anything!) The winners were chosen through a popular vote among team members and guests, and the winning entries provided great examples of how creative lei making can be!
Grand Wailea’s Lei Day celebration was topped off by a selection of goods available from local vendors, a performance by students from Ke Kula ‘o Pi‘ilani, a local Hawaiian immersion school, and a live concert by local musician Joshua Kahula.
Although Lei Day is over, we will be continuing our regular cultural programming, including weaving workshops, Hawaiian language lessons, hula and ukulele lessons, and our popular cultural tours led by Kalei. In addition, we will focus our daily activities during May, June, and July on traditional and nontraditional lei making to extend the positive vibes that our Lei Day celebration created.
“The lei is in the form of a circle or oval—a shape that never ends,” says Kalei. “The flowers may wilt or die, but the circle itself never ends.
“So the act of giving or receiving a lei symbolizes that the spirit of aloha goes on forever. And that’s something definitely worth celebrating!”
Bringing the Traditions of Maui to Life at Grand Wailea’s New Hīpuʻu Cultural Center
Celebrating King Kamehameha Day at Grand Wailea
Breathing New Life into ‘Ōlelo Hawai‘i (Hawaiian Language)
Or, in English: “The month of February shall be known and designated as ‘‘Ōlelo Hawai‘i Month’ to celebrate and encourage the use of Hawaiian language.”