Celebrating May Day: A Hawaiian Tradition

photo credit by Daniel Ramirez on Flickr
photo credit by Daniel Ramirez on Flickr

On May 1st, as the rest of the world celebrates May Day as a traditional spring holiday, Hawai’i prepares for its annual May Day festivities with the lei being front and center. May Day or “Lei Day” in Hawai’i celebrates the native Hawaiian tradition of giving and receiving a lei, a way to express love and friendship, but most importantly Aloha.

The history of the lei itself dates back to ancient Hawai’i when people of wealth, royalty and rank used to adorn them. As many ancient Hawaiian customs continue to fade, the tradition of lei-giving has flourished, hence we celebrate this day with pride on the islands. No one can resist the vibrant colors and intoxicating fragrances of Hawai’i’s most recognized icon…the flower lei.

A hallmark of May Day is also the Hawaiian royal court procession, which has eight princesses, each representing a different Hawaiian island. Many elementary schools across the island prepare for weeks, and on May 1st await the arrival of their royal court and their chosen May Day King and Queen. Being named the May Day queen is great honor, and in Hawaiʻi it is arguably a bigger deal than being named Homecoming Queen.

photo credit by Daniel Ramirez on Flickr
photo credit by Daniel Ramirez on Flickr

Each of the Hawaiian Islands has its own official lei and color which represents a flower or foliage that is endemic to that island. The May Day princesses will wear the color of the island she is representing and will be draped in the proper accompanying lei.


  • Hawaii – Lehua – Red
  • Oahu – Ilima – Yellow
  • Maui – Lokelani – Pink
  • Kauai – Mokihana – Purple
  • Molokai – Kukui – Green
  • Lanai – Kaunaoa – Orange
  • Niihau – Pupu – White
  • Kaho’olawe – Hinahina – Gray

The oldest and most extravagant May Day festival happens every year on Oʻahu at Kapiʻolani Park, at the east end of Waikīkī. Visitors to the festival can see different varieties of the garland in the lei-making contest exhibit, such as haku lei (worn on the head). You’ll see how complex and intricate a lei can be, the plethora of materials used and complex weaving techniques. You will find May Day events taking place all over the islands, with specials concerts and events commemorating this special day.

Leis can be worn, received, or given for almost any occasion. In Hawai’i, a lei is given for an office promotion, a birthday, an anniversary, a graduation, or any special event. A lei can be worn for no other reason than to enjoy the fragrance, take pleasure in the beautiful flowers, or simply, to celebrate the “Aloha Spirit.”

May Day Celebrations (Oahu)

89th Annual Lei Day Celebration – 9am – 5:30pm

3rd Annual May Day Waikiki – 2pm – 4:30pm

May Day Concert (honoring Gabby & Emily Pahinui) – 1pm – 6pm

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