Leis have always been a part of the ancient Hawaiian culture and modern culture of living in Hawaii. Hawaiian lei is a part of every celebration from births, graduations, weddings, anniversaries, and deaths--there is not one occasion in Hawaii where the gift of a lei would not be appropriate.
So although leis were so much a part of every day life then and now, it wasn't until 1928 that a couple of writers came up with the idea to celebrate the lei in Hawaii with its own special day.
In early 1928 writer and poet Don Blanding wrote an article in a local paper suggesting that a holiday be created centered around the Hawaiian custom of making and wearing lei. It was fellow writer Grace Tower Warren who came up with the idea of a holiday on May 1 in conjunction with May Day. She is also responsible for the phrase, "May Day is Lei Day." If you are planning a trip to Hawaii at the end of the month into early May, you'll get to experience this Hawaiian holiday first-hand for yourself.
The first Lei Day was held on May 1, 1928, and everyone in Honolulu was encouraged to wear lei. Festivities were held downtown with hula, music, lei making demonstrations and exhibits and lei making contests.
The Honolulu Star-Bulletin reported, "lei blossomed on straw and felt hats, lei decorated automobiles, men and women and children wore them draped about their shoulders. To the city Kamehameha's statue extended a garland of maile and plumeria, which fluttered in the wind from its extended hand. Lei recaptured the old spirit of the islands (a love of color and flowers, fragrance, laughter and aloha)."
In 1929, Lei Day was made an official holiday in the territory, a tradition which was interrupted only during the years of World War II, and which continues today.
So who was Don Blanding and how did Grace Tower Warren decide on May 1 as the day the lei should be celebrated?
According to Robert Schmitt and Ronn Ronck in their book, Firsts and Almost Firsts in Hawaii (University of Hawaii Press, 1995), this date marks Hawaii's first Lei Day. Don Blanding, then an artist and writer in the advertising division of the Honolulu Star-Bulletin, created it to promote business for the paper's advertisers. Blanding went on to become Hawaii's poet laureate. It's said that Grace Tower Warren, the newspaper's society editor, supported the idea because May 1 was her birthday! Since then, May 1 has been celebrated throughout the islands as a holiday associated with the floral garland.
Even though May Day had its start with commercial interests in mind and continues to be a great marketing tool and money maker for the state of Hawaii, I like most people absolutely love May Day.
When I lived on Oahu, I looked forward to wearing a special lei around Honolulu on May Day and going to Kapiolani Park to admire the winning leis from the Parks & Recreation lei making contest held annually. When you wear a lei on May Day you feel as beautiful as the lei you are wearing and feel a connection with everyone else wearing a lei because everyone is coming together to visually support something wonderful.
If you want to give or wear a fresh Hawaiian lei on May Day while you are on the mainland, we can help. Our fresh orchid flower leis and maile leaf leis can be delivered to you in 1-2 days. Our single orchid lei is only $39.00 and that includes Federal Express delivery!
This year, celebrate May Day in style wherever you are!