If you’re on the Big Island during the first week of May, you’re in for a treat – May Day is Lei Day in Hawai’i Nei! And celebrations aren’t just limited to May 1st. Here in Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park and across the chain of islands, you’ll find many schools and markets celebrating all week! 

And it all started in 1928 when writer Don Blanding, the “Poet Laureate of Hawai’i,” noted that Hawai`i observed all of the mainland holidays and those of a number of other cultures living on the islands. Even so, Hawai’i didn’t have a holiday that was uniquely its own. While working at the Honolulu Star-Bulletin, Bland had the idea that Hawai’i should celebrate a Lei Day by wearing and giving lei, which he told the editors of the paper about. 

“A day of general rejoicing over the fact that one lived in a Paradise… They agreed that it was a good idea and that we ought to present it to the public, which we proceeded to do,” says Blanding, who proposed the holiday in his column in the Honolulu Star-Bulletin on February 13, 1928. Two days later, Honolulu Star-Bulletin journalist Grace Tower Warren responded to Blanding’s recommendation, proposing May 1st as the official holiday.

“May Day is Lei Day,” wrote Warren. And once Princess Helen Kawananākoa told Blanding that she approved of the idea and thought it beautiful, it took hold. And so it came to pass that on May 1, 1928, the first official Lei Day celebration was observed in Honolulu, HI. Encouraged to craft, exchange, and wear a lei, the attendees of the first May Day Festival enjoyed hula, music, and lei-making that embodied the spirit of Aloha. 

Helen Liliʻuokalani Kawananakoa as a pāʻū rider
Helen Liliʻuokalani Kawananakoa as a pāʻū rider. Image: Wikipedia

Then Leonard and Ruth Hawk wrote a song that many of us in Hawai’i know my heart:

May Day is Lei Day in Hawai’i

Garlands of flowers everywhere  

All of the colors in the rainbow  

Maidens with blossoms in their hair.

We can’t think of a more symbolic way to celebrate the gift of lei and the spirit of Aloha it embodies than with a day honoring the tradition of weaving flowers and leaves into a fresh, fragrant lei. And this year, visitors to Volcano can enjoy a celebration right here in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park! Or take a short drive to Hilo to celebrate Lei Day. Either way, you won’t forget the music, merriment, and scent of fresh lei anytime soon! 

Celebrate in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park

On May 1st, head to the Volcano Art Center Gallery in Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park to celebrate the Hawaiian custom of lei making and giving. From 11am to 2pm, you can be part of hands-on lei making activities, listen to local musicians, and enjoy impromptu hula dancing to honor Hawaii’s multi-cultural traditions, woven together like a lei into a unique, tolerant, and loving community.

Celebrate in Downtown Hilo

Celebrate Lei Day at Kalakaua Park in downtown Hilo between 11am to 2pm for the 19th annual Hilo Lei Day Festival. You can learn the art of making lei or even enter a lei contest. There will also be hula with Ke ʻOlu Makani o Mauna Loa and Halau Hula Ka Makani Hali ‘Ala O Puna, as well as music from Ben Kaili, a renowned musician who started playing Hawaiian music at age of eight with his ohana ( including his real Uncle George Naope). 

It is said that the custom of weaving and wearing flower lei originated in Hawai’i so long ago that there is no record of its beginning. We hope you’ll have a chance to be part of a Lei Day celebration this May! And if you are considering visiting Volcano, Hawai’i, and have any questions about how to experience any of our traditions and celebrations, what to see while you’re here, and a stay at our Volcano Heritage Cottages, don’t hesitate to reach out

And have a Happy Lei Day!