Lei Day Guide

May 01, 2017

Lei Day Guide

History of Lei Day

I remember arriving at the airport when I first arrived in Hawaii. I was greeted by friends with lei, a symbol of Aloha welcoming me to the islands. Made from flowers, nuts, seeds, feathers, or fruit, lei are worn to celebrate and no celebration is bigger than on May 1st for Lei Day.

History of Lei Day

Prior to westerners coming to Hawaii, commoners bowed and presented royalty with lei as a gift. When poet Dan Blanding came to Hawaii, he wanted to continue the tradition by including everyone in the festivities. On May 1, 1928, Hawaiians celebrated the first Lei Day.  

Writing about it in Hula Moons, Blanding said, “So, the bright idea that I presented was, "Why not have a Lei Day?" Let everyone wear a lei and give a lei. Let it be a day of general rejoicing over the fact that one lived in a Paradise. Let it be a day for remembering old friends, renewing neglected contacts, with the slogan, "Aloha," allowing that flexible word to mean friendliness on that day.”

Lei Day Fact: The plural of lei is lei. As in “I received two lei today”. Never add an “s” to the end of the word lei.

Lei Day continues today with people celebrating with family, attending festivals, watching children in school pageants, giving and wearing lei, and participating in statewide lei making contests.

Lei Day Fact: When you receive Lei, drape it over your shoulders. Never wear it as a necklace close to the back of your neck.

It is the tradition of Hawaiians is to embrace or touch forehead to forehead when giving someone a lei. But the most common way to receive lei is a peck on the cheek and a warm hug after the giver places it around your neck.

Lei Day Fact: It is thought to be bad luck to wear a closed lei around your neck if you are pregnant. It symbolizes bad luck for the fetus.

Depending on the style, colors, and flowers, lei represent different sentiments.

  • Wedding Lei - Blessed by the wedding officiant, couples exchange lei as symbol of their love and commitment to each other. Lei may be worn by the bridal party and given to wedding guests as a symbol of appreciation.
  • Hala Lei are made from the pineapple-like fruit of the hala tree. They are thought to be abundant as a result of Pele’s rage. Pele pulled trees, threw them across the island and wherever they landed, hala trees grew. Hala lei symbolize death or good-bye except at the new year when it brings good luck for the future.
  • Just Because Lei - Okay, I made up that term but the idea is that there are no rules about when to wear lei. Wear one just because you want to smell the flowers or to decorate your outfit, whenever or wherever you like.

When you’re given a lei, accept it with a smile. If you’re allergic to the flowers, politely remove it and give to your spouse or travel companion. Never give it back; it’s considered rude.

Lei Day celebrations are found across the state of Hawaii and in Hawaiian communities on the mainland. Aloha! Tell us how you’re celebrating this tradition.

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