May 1st, May Day, is fondly known as Lei Day in Hawaii.
On this day, you make a lei, give a lei, and wear a lei.
First held as an island-wide celebration in 1928, May Day is one of Hawaii’s more modern customs (some history here). On this special day, beautiful leis are made, worn, given, displayed, and entered in lei-making contests. A necklace or wreath of flowers which are worn, a lei symbolizes love, support, caring and friendship. With their fragrance and beauty, and as offered in the spirit of gift-giving, leis evoke strong feelings of Aloha ‘Ä€ina (love of our land and our culture). May Day arrives with spring, so flowers are plentiful and irresistible now, however leis are also fashioned from leaves, shells, nuts, feathers, fabric, ribbon, beads, and even paper.
Leis are Hawaii’s most visible symbol of May Day, however there is much more to this special day. Most islanders believe that the sole purpose of May Day is to engage in random acts of kindness, to practice being Mea Ho‘okipa, and to celebrate the Aloha spirit.
Why restrict such wonderful intention to just one day? In honor of the entire month of May, our Ho‘ohana this month will be to share the spirit of May Day and the gifts of May you are able to give. Consider your own culture, your own sense of place: How can you “make a lei, give a lei, and wear a lei?” When we speak the word “lei” here on Talking Story this month, what kind of giving, sharing, and random act of kindness will it represent for you?
While you are thinking about it, a bit more on today in Hawaii to inspire you.
May Day erupts in passionate and elaborate showcases of our Hawaiian culture, for Lei Day has also become a celebration of life through hula (the Hawaiian dance) and song. Schools throughout the islands have May Day Programs planned months ahead of time, and rehearsals can begin as early as when children return to class from their Christmas break. May Day presents kumu (teachers) with the perfect opportunity to teach island children much more about the artistic expressions of our Hawaiian culture; learning is vividly realized in the performance of a hula and singing of a mele (song).
May Day Programs differ from school to school, but at most there is a May Day Court that harks back to those days when Hawaii was a monarchy. Upperclassmen are selected for the honor of being King or Queen, or island Prince and Princesses, a pair of royal siblings for each major island of our chain: O‘ahu, Maui, Kaua‘i, Kaho‘olawe, Lana‘i, Ni‘ihau, Moloka‘i, and where I live, the Big Island of Hawai‘i. Each member of the ali’i (royal court) will dress the part elaborately, with the garment colors and leis which are associated with each island.
The other given is that May Day is kākou, for everyone. Each and every child participates in the May Day program, presenting their hula and song as gifts to the ali‘i (royal court). No one is excluded. Everyone wears the fabrics and prints of Hawaii, and of course, everyone wears a lei.
At workplaces everywhere it is understood that if you are a parent there is no place more important to be than at your child’s May Day Program: Time off requests are submitted early, flex time is magically created for this one special day, meetings and conferences are rescheduled, or peers cover for you.
My own children’s May Day Programs ended when they entered high school. Still, there are lei to be given. I will be stripping the plumeria and puakenikeni trees in my yard of their flowers this morning, and making my own lei to give. On May Day that has always been their purpose, and so it shall always be for me: To let a flower dry and wither on a plant unloved today is just plain wrong. However my trees are a blessing: There will be more flowers all month long, and many more days I have the opportunity to give a lei.
Join me: This month, create and give your own lei of aloha. The opportunities are endless.