by Derek Kamakanaaloha Soong
This story was originally published on New York University’s Washington Square News.
In the myriad palms of the Hawaiian islands remains a cultural tradition as distinctive as the fragrant blossoms upon its shores. May Day, the first day of May, is a celebration of lei — the Hawaiian garland that serves both as decoration and as a symbol of aloha, the love and compassion unique to Hawai‘i and its native residents.
This rich island tradition of May Day dates back to 1927, when two Honolulu journalists, enthralled by the island’s tradition of giving and receiving lei, sought to set aside a special day to commemorate Hawaiian lei. The creation of this holiday commemorates the cultural and historical relevance of the lei and recognizes the vast knowledge needed to forage for florals, as well as the various intricate sewing and weaving techniques that form a lei.
Growing up on Kauaʻi, otherwise known as the Garden Isle, my elementary classmates and I participated in school celebrations of May Day. Each grade level showcased their own performance of a local island song accompanied by a dance or a traditional hula — the Hawaiian style of dance as synonymous with Hawaiʻi as the lei.
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