Embrace the Spirit of Aloha: What is Lei Day and How to Celebrate It?

Every year on May 1st, Hawaii comes alive with the festivities of Lei Day — a time-honored celebration that pays homage to the artistry and symbolism of the lei, a beautiful representation of love, friendship, and the aloha spirit. From the intricate craftsmanship behind each lei to the vibrant displays of cultural performances and pageantry, Lei Day on Oahu offers a glimpse into the soul of Hawaii, inviting all of us to embrace the beauty and meaning behind the flower lei.


The Flowery History of Lei Day: What is Lei Day?

Tourists and residents from the mainland U.S. are familiar with May Day. Lei Day in Hawaii arose as a Hawaiian take on this American holiday and was first celebrated back in 1928. According to Hawaiian historians, it arose from the poem “Nā Lei O Hawaiʻi” (The Wreaths of Hawaiʻi) penned by Samuel Kapū in the early 1900s, which talks about the different tropical flowers that represent each Hawaiian island (Oahu's was the ʻilima flower).

The historians document that:

  • By 1912, the tradition of performers and hula dancers wearing the lei that represented their island became commonplace
  • In 1923, the territory of Hawaii (it didn't become a U.S. state until 1959) passed legislation recognizing the flower symbols for each island
  • The first lei day, marked by lei contests between the royal courts of each island, occurred on May 1, 1928

Today, the theme for each annual May Day changes. The statewide theme is inspired by that year's voyages of the Hōkūle‘a’s Moananuiākea in conjunction with the Native Hawaiian voyaging proverbs transcribed in Mary Kawena Pukui’s ‘Ōlelo No‘eau:

  • 2024: Komo mai kāu māpuna hoe (Dip your paddle in/join the effort) with the lei material being  (the Hawaiian word for the ti plant, or Cordyline fruticosa)
  • 2025: Hoʻokahi ka ʻilau like ʻana (Wield the paddles together/work together), with the chosen flower being the hau (Hibiscus tiliaceus)
  • 2026: Mai ka hoʻokuʻi i ka hālāwai (From zenith to horizon/invoking spirits) with the chosen lei material being ʻuala (the Native Hawaiian word for sweet potato, or Ipomoea batatas)


Where to Celebrate Lei Day on Oahu: Can't-Miss Lei Day Activities in 2024

You'll find lei day activities across the Aloha State, but one of the biggest events on Oahu takes place at Kapi‘olani Park (3840 Paki Ave, Honolulu, HI 96815), a short 5-minute drive or 20-minute walk from the centrally located Waikiki Resort Hotel:

  • Date and time: May 1, 2024, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m
  • Price: Free
  • Important details: Honolulu traffic and parking for this popular event can be chaotic, so consider walking, taking a taxi or public transportation, or utilizing Waikiki's bike-sharing program
  • What to expect: The festival is an extravaganza of Hawaiian culture and entertainment. Enjoy internationally renowned music from the likes of Ho‘okena (a Hawaiian music trio) and the Royal Hawaiian Band (established in 1836 by Kamehameha III, it's the oldest municipal band in America), countless food and craft vendors, hula performances, and — of course! — a competition showcasing the most detailed, exquisite lei you'll see anywhere in the world

But that's not the only celebration to explore this Lei Day, with many opportunities to take part in Lei Day festivities across the island of Oahu:

  • Every Thursday:  Immerse yourself in the delightful art of crafting authentic Hawaiian leis in the Waikiki Resort Hotel's main lobby, free for all hotel guests from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. (one of the hotel's many cultural amenities, alongside pop-up Hawaiian craft markets, ukulele lessons, and hula lessons)
  • April 30, 2024: Make your own lei at Kapi‘olani Park with free workshops running from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
  • May 1: The Royal Hawaiian Center (2201 Kalākaua Ave, Honolulu, HI 96815) hosts an annual celebration with lei-making classes, live entertainment, and more
  • May 1: The famous Blue Note Hawaii music venue (2335 Kalākaua Ave, Honolulu, HI 96815) is hosting a special Lei Day event with the Kuana Tores Kahele Band (Kahele is a Native Hawaiian composer famous for being in Disney Pixar’s LAVA) and dancers from Maui's award-winning Halau Kekuaokala'au'ala'iliahi (hula performers)
  • May 2: At approximately 10:15 a.m., attend a closing ceremony at Kawaiaha‘o Church (957 Punchbowl St, Honolulu, HI 96813) where the lei from the competition are placed on the graves of Hawaiiʻs ali‘i (royalty)

The main Lei Day event takes place just minutes from the conveniently located Waikiki Resort Hotel, and you can beat the thousands of people who attend the main ceremonies and workshops at Kapi‘olani Park when you stay with us. Book your stay at the Waikiki Resort Hotel online or call us at 1-800-367-5116 to see why our location, friendly staff, convenience, and amenities — including our free lei workshops! — give us top ratings among our guests.