Lei Day 2015 

Most people in the mainland know May 1st as “May Day”. I recall hearing stories of maypole dances and flowers and such during elementary school. However, in Hawaii, Lei Day is a state-wide celebration. The holiday begins in the morning of May 1st every year and continues throughout the entire day and even continues into the next day. Lei day was established as a holiday in 1929 and continues to this day. 

This holiday is a true celebration of Hawaiian culture, or the Aloha spirit. People commonly celebrate by giving gifts of leis to one another. I imagine that Lei Day is even more festive this year in Hawaii because today is a Friday. Just thinking about the fragrance of the pua in the lei makes me smile. 

Today, there are numerous lei making contests, hula performances, and concerts scheduled throughout the weekend. That will happen on top of all the personal tradition of giving a lei to friends and loved ones. Giving lei, in the Hawaiian culture, represents expression of aloha without saying a word. For those of you who travel to Hawaii and your travel agent arranges for a fresh flower lei greeting, you’ve felt the “welcome” Aloha spirit. But lei are also given when someone leaves the island to say, “don’t forget to come back to visit.” Depending on the occasion “aloha” can stand for farewell, greeting, love, hope, or joy. 
In hula, we wear lei as adornments to tell the complete story of our mele or chant. Each island is represented by a different flower or plant. The website aloha-hawaii.com has a nice outline and description of each. I also did a quick search for images of the flowers, along with actual lei for examples. 

Each Hawaiian island has its own designated official flower:

Oahu Flower

Oahu’s flower is the yellow ilima (Sida fallax), which is a very popular flower used for leis. Each flower is about an inch across and somewhat resembles a small hibiscus. Early Hawaiians used ilima flowers as a cure for general illnesses. Juice from the pressed flowers was given to children, and pregnant women sometimes ate the flowers until childbirth.

Yellow ilima



Big Island Flower

The official flower of the Big Island is the red ohia, which is the blossom of the native ohia tree. Lehua blossoms can also be orange, yellow or white. The flower is often used for leis. It’s said that the lehua flower is sacred to Pele, Hawaii’s volcano goddess.



Kauai Flower

Kauai’s flower actually isn’t a flower at all: The mokihana (Pelea anisata) is a green berry grown only on the slopes of Mount Waialelae. Strung like beads and woven with strands of maile, these hardy berries have a scent of anise.

Mokihana berry

Mokihana berry lei


Maui Flower

Maui’s flower is the pink lokelani (Rosa damascena), or pink cottage rose. Brought to the Islands in the 1800s, the lokelani is prized by gardeners for its beauty and fragrance. The lokelani is the only non-native plant to be recognized as the official flower of any of the Hawaiian islands.



(Uncle Kuana has recorded CDs filled with songs from specific islands, check him out!)

Molokai Flower

The flower of Molokai is the white kukui blossom (Aleurites moluccana). These tiny white flowers are popular among Island lei makers.



Lanai Flower

Lanai’s flower is the kaunaoa, or yellow and orange air plant. Lei makers take the thin, light orange strands of this vine and twist them together to form leis.



Niihau Flower

Niihau’s designated “flower” is the white pupu shell, found on the shoreline of this rocky island. 



Even uninhabited Kahoolawe has its own official flower, the hinahina (Heliotropium anomalum), a silver-gray plant whose flowers and stems are used in lei making.

hinahina plant on the beach 



Also, gods and goddesses are represented by different foliage or plants. So, we pay close attention to our costume adornments because each lei, flower, seed, and leaf have meaning, literal and kauna. That blog explanation will have to wait. 
Happy Lei Day! 

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