Lei Day is a uniquely Hawaiian celebration, honoring the tradition of making and wearing lei. The first Lei Day occurred in downtown Honolulu in 1927. Honolulu Star-Bulletin writer and poet, Don Blanding suggested the idea. In 1929, Lei Day became a state-wide celebration.
Always celebrated on May 1st, Lei Day is not a state holiday, so businesses are open as usual. The celebration is marked by making and wearing lei, parades, contests, music, and traditional hula. The largest Lei Day festival takes place in Honolulu at Kapiolani Park. Each of the neighbor islands also host celebrations.
About Hawaiian Lei
Lei* is a Hawaiian word meaning garland or wreath most often made of flowers. However, lei can be made from other types of natural and man-made materials, such as leaves, shells, feathers, beads, ribbon, and paper. Lei Po’o (haku lei) is a head lei or crown. A haku is formed with the flowers and/or greenery plaited or braided “face-out.” More info: Lei Make Methods.ai (honolulu.gov) and 7 of Hawaii’s Most Popular Lei and What Makes Them Unique – Hawaii Magazine
*Lei: in the Hawaiian language, an “s” is not added to make a word plural. So, you say one lei, two lei; not two leis.
Lei are worn by men, women, and children. Often given as a symbol of affection or honor, lei are a traditional gesture for many Hawaiian occasions, including birthdays, graduation, weddings, anniversaries, retirement, contest winners, holidays and many other occasions. However, there does not need to be a reason or occasion. Anyone can wear a lei, anytime. You buy or make a lei to wear yourself.
Veteran lei makers maintain a lei garden and supplement their flowers with blossoms from the gardens of friends, florists, garden shops, and wholesale floral shops. It takes as much time (or more) to gather flowers as it does to make a lei. Many people also gather materials from the forest. However, be sure not to pick any endangered species; know what you are picking and to take only the amount you need.
To give a lei, it is customary to place lei around the neck of the recipient and then to kiss them on both cheeks. To wear a lei, drape the garland over your shoulders, with it hanging down equally in front and in back. You must always accept a lei when presented. Don’t remove a lei from your neck in the presence of the person who gave it to you. If you must remove it (strong fragrance, allergy, or whatever reason), be discreet.
Enjoy the following video performance of “Hawai’i Aloha” featuring dozens of Hawai‘i’s top artists across many genres and 1,000 youth from 10 Hawaiian charter schools. It is Hawaiiʻs most widely known song, used to close important gatherings of all sizes. It is a song of unity and Aloha ‘Aina (Aloha for one’s birthplace, land and home).
“Hawai’i Aloha” is almost always sung in ʻōlelo Hawaiian. For Hawaiian and English lyrics to “Hawai’i Aloha”, visit: Lyrics in English and Hawaiian for the Song “Hawaii Aloha” (hawaiianmusichistory.com).
Lei Day events and things to do
(Listed by Island, in date order)
Hawaiʻi Island Lei Day events
Now thru May 1, 2023. Worldʻs Longest Ti Leaf Lei Attempt. Waikoloa Beach Marriott is attempting to break the current Guinness World Record for the longest lei. Currently, the longest fresh-flower lei measured 5.01 km (3.11 miles) long and was made by 120 volunteers in an event organized by Chev. Dr. N. R. Dhanapalan (India) in Chennai, India, on 2 January 2012. We are shooting for a 5-mile lei! Come and kokua (help) the Waikoloa Beach Marriott in this attempt to break the World Record for the Longest Lei on May 1, 2023. From now until Lei Day, guests are invited to add length. More info: Worldʻs Longest Ti Leaf Lei Attempt – Waikoloa Beach Resort
Now thru May 1, 2023, daily @10am. Learn how to make ti leaf style lei in the Aka Ula Lanai (in front of coffee shop). Learn how to make ti leaf style lei called “Hilo” which is done by twisting leaves together. More info: Worldʻs Longest Ti Leaf Lei Attempt – Waikoloa Beach Resort
May 1, 2023. Hilo Lei Day Festival is held at Kalākaua Park. It is free and open to the public. The family-friendly event celebrates Hawaiian history, culture, and arts. There are lei making demonstrations, live local music, and hula performance. The celebration begins with a re-dedication of Kalākaua Park at 10:30 am followed by the opening ceremony is at 11:00 am. The festival ends at 2:00 pm. More info: May Day is Lei Day in Hawaiʻi (leiday.org)
Maui Lei Day events
Hale Hōʻikeʻike at the Bailey House in Wailuku hosts the largest Lei Day celebration on Maui.
Maui Arts and Cultural Center usually hosts an annual Lei Day concert featuring local musicians.
Kauai Lei Day events
Kauai Museum typically hosts annual May Day Lei Contest.
Oʻahu Lei Day events
Honolulu Parks & Rec Lei Day
The Honolulu Department of Parks and Recreation (DPR) defines a particular theme which coincides with a specific flower/plant that must be used in lei submitted the annual lei contest. In addition, prior to the Lei Day Celebration, a Lei Court is chosen. Three court members must fall within the age group for that year. There are also three lei contests in several categories: Hawaiian lei, youth lei, and lei lipine (ribbon, fabric, yarn lei). The lei contest rules are typically made to the public by the beginning of the year. Lei makers are encouraged to plan their lei garden for the next two years so that the materials are ready and available as the Lei Day Celebration approaches.
More info: Lei Day (honolulu.gov)
Theme for Lei Day 2023
The 2023 theme is Lei Kuahiwi – mountain lei. The corresponding theme flower is ‘Ōhi‘a Lehua (Metrosideros polymorpha). As Rapid ‘Ōhi‘a Death (ROD) continues to threaten our lehua forests, the challenge in 2023 will be to make an “‘ōhi‘a-like lei” using the Calliandra (is a genus of flowering plants in the pea family, Fabaceae, in the mimosoid clade of the subfamily Caesalpinioideae;) and eucalyptus – without using any part of the ‘ōhi‘a plant. The age category for the 2023 Lei Court is 61 years of age and older. More info: Lei_Day_Celebration_themes_2022_and_2023.pdf (honolulu.gov)
Jan. 13, 2023 at 4:30 p.m. Application deadline for the 2023 Lei Court. More info: 2023 Lei Day (honolulu.gov)
March 4, 2023, from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. The 2023 Lei Court Selection at Kapolei Hale. The public is invited to enjoy this beautifully unique display of Hawaiian pageantry. Event is free and open to the public. More info: 2023 Lei Day (honolulu.gov)
May 1, 2023 from 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. 95th Annual Lei Day Celebration at Kapi‘olani Park. More info: 2023 Lei Day (honolulu.gov)
Lei Day events on our calendar
Lei Day is an unofficial state holiday always celebrated on May 1, knwon elsewhere as May Day. The following events feature Lei Day celebrations, including lei-making workshops, contests, and demos or related events.