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History of leis

May 3, 2022 0 comments


    Woven into the Hawaiian heritage is the artistry of lei-making. Its background represents its true origin and adaptation of the natives to this craftmanship new to their island. Long since then has it grown and developed into the lifestyle of islanders while being worn and displayed on special occasions. Because of the continuous creation and frequent appearance of the lei, a day in lieu of its existence was bound to be made.

    Just like how counties celebrate national holidays within borders, Hawaii also has its own and distinctive day to commemorate. Lei Day is a wide-known event that certainly makes its mark on the eight major islands. What was thought of as an idea by a local news writer, gradually became a recognized and official holiday among the state. Ever since its officiation, May 1 was always a day Hawaiians reenact the inherited tradition handed down by the old generations. As the custom continued to flourish, it is significant to look back on how the special day came to be and what do the Islanders do to honor this historical figure.

Numerous rosette leis in gold, brown and white color
Brown, gold and white rosette lei design

The History of Lei Day

    Lei Day had its humble beginnings ever since its upbringing. It was a writer and poet of the Honolulu Star-Bulletin who is responsible for the birth of a momentous day. Don Blading first proposed the idea of Lei Day in his book, Hula Moons. In the book, he insinuated what if a day like this existed and everyone would give each other leis to wear and share. Blanding continues proclaiming that it be a day to rejoice by the fact that one lived in a Paradise. The tagline “Aloha” as he pronounced should be paired along with recalling old pals and renewing ignored contracts to ensue friendship on that very day.

    The adored “Poet Laureate of Hawaii,” introduced the holiday on February 13, 1928, in his column in the news company he worked for. Two days after the article’s publication, a co-worker and columnist Grace Tower Warren recommended that the first of May was the perfect time to celebrate the Holiday. Aside from the worldwide celebrated Labor Day, she crafted the slogan, “May Day is Lei Day in Hawaii” which more or less fitted the lei and the date. It can be concluded that the two columnists were the creators of Lei Day.

    The Hawaiian Royal, Princess Helen Kawananakoa, noticed this change and had her comment on the upcoming event. She said that the best part of Lei Day brings together fellow kamaainas or people of native Hawaiian ancestry again. Adding that the doings during the good old days will revive, the first-ever Lei Day took off in 1928.

    The start of Lei Day took place in the downtown of Honolulu, while some say it was first held in Oahu. Regardless, people went and participated in the brand-new event to commend the lei and gather with fellow locals. Then in the year after, the first Lei Queen pageant took place, which will be given the pikake crown. Nina Boman bagged the title and forged up the path up ahead for future candidates.

    Two years after Lei Day was found, it finally became an official holiday. Under H.B. 1257, as signed by Governor Wallace R. Farrington, the Lei Day proclamation urged citizens to observe the day and honor the lei by wearing and displaying it. 


Event leis created for Regional Training Center in the Philippines
Beautiful event leis created for Regional Training Center (Philippines)

Lei Day Celebration 

    It is with absolute certainty that Hawaii is composed of eight major islands wherein a lei represents each vicinity. Knowing that an official lei represents a particular area, most Hawaiians living in the various areas participate and wear a lei on the special day. From schools filled with keiki or children to the highest-ranking officials, the spirit of Aloha is indeed within these peoples’ hearts when the celebration comes. 

    Different activities take place across the islands on Lei Day. For one, schools and their students are active through singing and dancing. They create leis and share them among friends in spite of showing the spirit of the lei – love, and friendship. Within the same circle, a Lei King and Queen, (which is different from the annual Lei Queen pageant), are to be elected and then crowned. The victors will also serve as representatives of each of the distinctive eight islands. Then, a special hula dance concludes this section.

    Members of royalty also engage with the traditions. They wear leis in accordance with the island they represent. The humble workshops and local artisans also flaunt their skills using flowers, Ti leaves, native plants, and other materials in lei making. It just goes to show that the status is not a hindrance to be part of the Hawaiian holiday.

    Though the holiday is indeed commemorated all throughout the island, a certain venue stands out and is popular for hosting Lei Day in the most extravagant way. The island of Oahu, specifically in Queen Kapiolani Park in Wakiki, organizes the best reception yet. To name a few, what are being showcased are lei demonstrations, hula performances, exhibits, live music, food and craft vendors, and other activities. It is no surprise that the fact this is all freely accessed by the general public is the reason waves of people come to visit and experience the May Day celebration.

    Finally, to wrap the whole event up is the annual Lei Day Queen pageant. The criteria for selecting the woman fit for the role are fluency in the Hawaiian language, hula proficiency, and lei-making skills. Then once the queen is crowned, she makes her way to the festivities and makes her presence felt on the day of her reign. 


Literature About Lei Day

    Lei Day may reflect the foundation of the lei in Hawaii, it also brought inspiration to some to create works of literature about the said day. But it actually had been a millennium since folks started to form ancient chants, poems, modern songs, and other dedicated writings as well. The lei has since been a common topic used even before the birth of Lei Day.

    In the year when Blanding was pitching his holiday idea, married couple and musicians Ruth and Leonard “Red” Hawk wrote a song under the influence of the lei. The well-known song, “May Day is Lei Day in Hawaii” was always associated with the celebration. Despite it almost being a century-old song, it is still sung and performed among many Hawaiians up to this very day.

    Books undermining the event also were published in the years thereafter. A children’s book in the title of “A Lei for Every Day” by author Beth Greenway taught young ones the significance of the Lei. Then, author Jeffrey Kent wrote a book named “May Day/Lei Day”, as a means of teaching the long-run history of the lei to its readers. 



Where and how to buy rosette leis in the Philippines

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