My mother had me celebrating May Day from an early age (you leave a basket of flowers on a neighbor’s doorstep, ring the bell, then run and hide), and I continued the custom when Suzanne and John were small. (Mrs. Polhemus down the street said to me once, “Oh, my Dear, I’m going to be so sad when your children grow up!”)
But I have felt in recent years that nobody knows about May Day anymore, unless it’s the May Day of the labor movement. Not even florists promote it.
So imagine my delight when Alden posted on Facebook a Happy Lei Day greeting today! It turns out that something like May Day lives on in Hawaii.
Alden, a native Hawaiian, routinely posts the glorious flower photos of Nate Yuen, Commissioner of Natural Area Reserves System Hawaii. Today he linked to the beautiful lei below.
I was intrigued to learn that it took just one person to start the Lei Day tradition (proving that “one and one and 50 make a million”). Here’s what Don Blanding said about it in Hula Moons (quoted in Hawaiian History):
Along in the latter part of 1927 I had an idea … I told the editors of the Honolulu Star-Bulletin, the paper on which I worked. They agreed that it was a good idea and that we ought to present it to the public, which we proceeded to do. It took hold at once and resulted in something decidedly beautiful. …
Hawaii observed all of the mainland holidays as well as those of a number of the immigrant nationalities in the Islands. But there was no day that was peculiarly and completely Hawaii’s own; that is none that included all of the polyglot population there.
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 became an official holiday in 1929. Lei Day celebrations continue today, marking May First with lei-making competitions, concerts, and the giving and receiving of lei among friends and family.”
Here’s a bit more from the Huffington Post: “Giving or receiving a lei in Hawaiian culture carries special meaning. Although the lei has become a popular souvenir to purchase, the true value of the lei is the process that leads up to the finished product. When gifting a lei, one starts with choosing the flowers to be used and then personally strings each blossom with thoughtful purpose for the recipient.” (Interesting. That’s how I pick pictures for my collage cards.)
Photo: Nate Yuen
This splendid lei was made by Brian Choy in 2007.