In the state of Hawaii, May Day is Lei Day. Each year, May 1st marks Hawaii’s nationally-recognized Lei Day — an annual tribute to a culturally iconic symbol. Celebrated by locals dressed in aloha attire, the custom honors the state’s natural production of tropical flowers in the crafting and wearing of the lei.
The passing and receiving of the lei is practiced throughout Polynesia. Original Hawaiian settlers carried this custom to the islands, making it a practice for all genders. In ancient Hawaiian times, commoners and chiefs of all genders wore lei, but certain lei such as the lei niho palaoa, made from a whale tooth and entwined human hair, was reserved only for royal blood. In modern practice, men and women continue to wear and exchange lei on occasions like graduations, funerals, birthdays and weddings. Although commonly and commercially made from flowers, lei are often crafted with leaves, nuts, shells, feathers or ribbon.
Though the lei in itself holds powerful ancient meaning and tradition, Lei Day only began in 1927. Courtesy of Honolulu Star-Bulletin writer and poet, Don Blanding, the first Lei Day celebration was held on O’ahu and became a state-wide festivity two years later.
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