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.
The annual statewide Lei Day event celebrates the aloha spirit very May 1st on all the islands of Hawai‘i. It is not a state holiday, so businesses are open as usual.
Of course, the event is marked by lei making, as well as 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. A lei can be a necklace of flowers, as well as many other 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. This type of lei is formed with the flowers and/or greenery plaited or braided “face-out.”
Lei are worn by men, women, and children, given as a symbol of affection or honor. So, lei are traditional for many Hawaiian occasions, such as birthdays, graduation, weddings, anniversaries, funerals, contest winners, holidays (Memorial Day, Mothr’s Day, Father’s Day, etc.) and many other occasions.
But, there does not need to be a reason or occasion. Anyone can wear a lei, anytime. You can make one or buy a lei to wear yourself.
Wear a lei draped over your shoulders, with it hanging down both in front and in back.
It is customary to place lei around the neck of the recipient and then to kiss them on both cheeks.
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).
In Hawai’i, the song is almost always sung in Hawaiian. For the Hawaiian lyrics to “Hawai’i Aloha”, along with the English translation, visit: Lyrics of the Song “Hawaii Aloha” (hawaiianmusichistory.com).
Lei Day celebrations
Online: Free lei making workshop
The online ‘ōhi‘a-free lei making workshops are for anyone interested in making lei. The workshop will demonstrate the wili (to wind or coil) lei making style, which uses a simple twisting technique. Participants will learn how to gather materials from the yard or garden and wili their own plant materials together. The workshop will also cover options for ‘ōhi‘a-free lei making, discuss sustainable picking practices, and review how to clean plant material. Don’t have access to fresh plant materials? No problem, there will also be suggestions for using other household items: string, twine, raffia, ribbon, yarn, etc. Beginners and experienced lei makers are welcome. Workshops are FREE and open to EVERYONE from ANYWHERE. Register on EventBrite to receive the workshop link (see list below) and also to view a short video “How to collect and prepare materials” at least 1-day before the scheduled workshop. More info: 2021 ‘Ōhi‘a-Free Lei Workshop🌿 (mailchi.mp)
Virtual Lei Day 2021
Make a lei from supplies available in and around your home or that you purchase: fresh flowers, greenery (maile, ti laf, fern, etc.), dried plants (lauhala/hala leaf, raffia), beads, ribbon, yarn, string/twine, paper, etc.
- Measure your lei (do not include the ties) and take a photo of it
- Post it to your social media pages (be sure to include the measurement) using the hashtag #leidaycelebration2021
- Post your photo by Saturday, May 1st 2 a.m. HT.
In 2008, Honolulu’s Parks & Recreation and Hawai‘i established the Guinness World Record for the longest fresh floral/greenery lei at one-mile long. A year later that title was claimed by San Pedro Laguna, Philippines with a 1.3-mile lei. The current world record stands at 3.11 miles long as established in Chennai, India in 2012.
In 2020, Hawai’i would like to (unofficially and virtually) reclaim the title! Want to participate? Great! Just make a lei (or a dozen!) and post the measurements as above.
More info: Lei Day (honolulu.gov)
Hilo Lei Day
Hilo Lei Day Festival is held at Kalākaua Park. It’s a family-friendly event that celebrates Hawaiian history, culture, and arts. Many activities are free.
The celebration begins with a re-dedication of Kalākaua Park at 10:30 am, officiated by Kahu Moses Crabbe. The opening ceremony is at 11:00 am. The festival ends at 2:00 pm.
There are also the lei making demonstrations, live local music, and hula performance. It is free and open to the public.
In 2021, attendance in the park is limited. Only 10 visitors at a time will be able to join the entertainment and demonstrations within the park at any given time.
The Historic Hawaiʻi Foundation funded restoration of the 1930s stonework in the park, including removing the sod which had grown over the stone paving, resetting pōhaku (stones) that had become loose, re-sodding areas which had eroded, and finding a place for the standing water to go. The restoration also included replacing the informational plaque which had been torn from its stand. Much of the labor was provided by youth volunteers.
To enable as many people as possible to participate, visitors are asked to enter at the Kalākaua Street end of the newly refurbished stone walkway and exit at the Waiʻanuenue Avenue end.
Attendees are also asked to social distance as they enjoy the park and view the lovingly re-set stonework.
You can also join the Hilo Day Lei Day online. More info: Hilo Lei Day Festival 2021 – Lei Day . Org
Maui Lei Day Heritage Festival
Hale Hōʻikeʻike at the Bailey House in Wailuku hosts the largest Lei Day celebration on Maui.
In 2021, Bailey House Museum remains closed. However, they are hosting a Virtual Lei Contest.
Maui Arts and Cultural Center hosts an annual Lei Day concert featuring local musicians.
In 2021, the Maui Arts and Cultural Center remains closed.
Kauai Lei Day celebration
Kauai Museum hosts its annual May Day Lei Contest at the Kauai Marriott Resort and Beach Club.
In 2021, no Lei Day activities are announced. The museum is currently open limited hours. Advance reservations required.
Lei Day events on our calendar
Lei Day is May Day, an unofficial state holiday always celebrated on May 1. The following events feature Lei Day celebrations, as well as lei-making workshops.
Kalākaua Park, 136 Kalakaua St, Hilo, HI 96720