We see people wearing lei for graduations, birthdays, hotel arrivals and weddings. I remember wearing a purple lei when graduating from high school. In early 1928 writer and poet Don Blanding wrote an article for the Honolulu Star Bulletin suggesting that a holiday be created centered around the Hawaiian custom of making and wearing lei. However it was fellow writer Grace Tower Warren who came up with the idea of a holiday on May 1 in conjunction with May Day. She is responsible for coining the phrase, “May Day is Lei Day.”
The first Lei Day was on May 1, 1928 and everyone in Honolulu were encouraged to wear lei. Festivities were held downtown with hula music, lei making demonstrations and exhibits and lei making contests.
In 1929, Lei Day was made an official holiday in the territory, a tradition which was interrupted only during the years of World War II, and which continues today. The Hawaiian song, “May Day is Lei Day in Hawaii” was composed in 1927 by Ruth and Leonard “Red” Hawk.
At the 81st Annual Mayor’s Lei Day Celebration at Kapiolani Park in 2008, Honolulu set the record for the World’s Longest Lei. Unofficially, the lei measured 5,336 feet in length, more than a mile. “We exceeded our goal,” said Mayor Mufi Hannemann. “We were hoping to reach one mile. All of the major islands celebrate Lei Day, and each island is symbolized in pageantry by a specific type of lei and a color.
Hawaii’s color is red, here on Maui, the color is pink.