Skip to main content
Grand Wailea Maui
A Hawaiian man on a beach holding out a lei

May Day Is Lei Day

The spirit of aloha comes alive at Grand Wailea
Grand Wailea
May 1st, 2023

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 welcome our guests to this wonderful tradition, share its history and background, and allow guests to celebrate this unique experience with us. We're hosting a flower lei making station where our guests can weave their own authentic lei at our Kilohana Cultural Resource Center.

“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!”

lei day maui

Related Stories

Celebrating King Kamehameha Day at Grand Wailea

Our resort pays tribute to the first king of a unified Hawaiʻi

Breathing New Life into ‘Ōlelo Hawai‘i (Hawaiian Language)

In 2012, the Hawai‘i State Legislature issued a statute that reads as follows: “E ‘ike mau a e kapa ‘ia ana a‘e ka mahina ‘o Pepeluali ‘o ia ka ‘Mahina ‘Ōlelo Hawai‘i’ i mea e ho‘omaika‘i a e paipai aku ai i ka ‘ōlelo ‘ana o ua ‘ōlelo makuahine nei lā.”

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.”

Awaken and Arise with the Perfect Start to the Day

Discover the magic and history of Grand Wailea’s e ala e experience, a rejuvenating and inspiring wellness experience that allows you to learn a simple Hawaiian oli (chant) and enter the ocean to release the past and all of life’s stresses. Emerging from the ocean renewed, welcome the rising sun with a rousing “E Ala E” chant that creates life energy for the day ahead.

An Open-Air Museum in Paradise

At Grand Wailea, we have assembled a formidable art collection to spur the imagination and shed light on our historical and cultural roots.

Connecting Culture and Community

Kalei’s popular weekly cultural tours will give you a feeling of connection; learn more about her island home of Maui and her Hawaiian heritage.

E Komo Mai!

We are honored to call Maui home, and from the moment we opened our doors in 1991, we have been committed to sharing the essence and wonder of Maui.