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28 Apr 2023
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There is a well-known song in Hawaii written by Leonard and Ruth Hawk.  The lyrics go “May Day is Lei Day in Hawaii.  Garlands and flowers everywhere.  All of the colors of the rainbow, maidens with blossoms in their hair”.  If you are familiar with the song then chances are you just sang along with the lyrics.

This long-standing holiday of the Hawaiian culture and the spirit of Aloha has been celebrated on May 1st for over 85 years! The lei is a flower necklace in Hawaiian culture and is recognized as a powerful symbol of love and appreciation that is recognized throughout the world.

The History of How May Day Became Lei Day

May Day became Lei Day in Hawaii in 1928 when American poet, Don Blanding, proposed the idea of celebrating making, giving, and wearing lei to Star-Bulletin editor Grace Tower Warren who loved the idea.  She suggested the celebration and also coined the phrase “May Day is Lei Day”.  The tradition of May Day is celebrated across the Hawaiian Islands every 1st of May.  Although, May Day in Hawaii officially began in the 1920s, making and giving lei was a custom carried on from the days of the ancient Hawaiians.

The act of giving lei symbolizes the spirit of Aloha (love, honor, celebration, friendship, etc). In Hawaii lei are worn and many times given during hula performances, May Day performances, graduations, birthdays, anniversaries, and the list goes on… You may have seen some crazy photos of graduation ceremonies where the graduates are completely covered in lei from their shoulders to the tops of their heads.  This outpour of aloha is just one prime example of what the gift of lei means.

When it comes to making lei, you are only limited to your imagination. The plumeria is one of the more common flowers (pua) used to string lei.  They are beautiful, fragrant, and found nearly everywhere around the island.  The downside of using this pua for lei is that they do not last for very long compared to other flowers.

Lei Day in Kauai

Make Your Own Plumeria Lei

Materials Needed:

  • Approximately 50-60 flowers per lei depending on how long you want your lei
  • A tub or large bowl about ¾ full of water
  • A towel or newspaper/paper towel
  • Thread or dental floss
  • Scissors
  • Long needle

Step by Step Instructions for Making a Plumeria Lei:

    1. Pick your plumeria. Be sure to stay away from picking any with brown edges.
    2. Soak them in your tub/bowl of water for about 5 to 10 minutes. This is done to wash off the milky, sticky sap that can otherwise irritate your skin.
    3. Drain the water and spread your pua on the towel or newspaper/paper towels.
    4. Measure and cut your thread (or dental floss) to the desired length plus another 6-8 inches. Although it is not necessary some like to double the string.
    5. String the needle and tie off the opposite side of the string about 3-4 inches from the end. Once you start stringing your pua the knot you just tied should keep them strung.
    6. Let’s get stringing! Insert the needle through the center of the face of the flower and pull the pua to the knotted end of your string. Continue this all step until you have filled your string with pua leaving about 3-4 inches between the back of the last flower and the needle eye.
    7. Remove the needle and tie both ends together and trim off any excess string.
    8. Lei someone!

    Even if you are not physically in Hawaii you can still celebrate May Day Hawaii style from wherever in the world you are. Share the Aloha!