HAWAII ISLAND: May 1st is May Day, and May Day is Lei Day in Hawaii… on the island you will find that many cultural practitioners, businesses, and community organizations have been working hard to keep the tradition alive.
Accounts say the observance was conceived back in 1927, when poet Don Blanding – employed at the time by the Honolulu Star Bulletin, came up with the idea and shared it with columnist Grace Tower Warren.
Today, in our Lei Day special, we share a few short stories we have filmed on the subject:
Before we get to the ins and outs of the special day… we first take a look back at last year’s May Day, which was something of an anomaly. May 1st is a joyous day, but Americans found themselves rejoicing over a different event, one a great historic significance. Barack Obama delivered the news of Osama Bin Laden’s death in a surprise telecast from the White House.
The news put a different spin on our coverage of Lei Day last year, as we focused on the Volcano Art Center celebration. This was well before any hint that a major world event was unfolding, exept for unexplained condition changes at Hawaii military bases. Tim Bryan had the story of Volcano’s Lei Day in 2011.
Hilo has always been at the heart of Hawaii Island’s May Day celebration. This will be the 8th year for the Lei Day festival started by Aunty Nona Beamer and Leilehua Yuen… taking place at the East Hawaii Cultural Center and Hilo’s original Lei Day Festival location – Kalakaua Park.
We visited Yuen at the cultural center the day before (April 30th) as she worked to prepare the lei themed art exhibit inside the historic building.
Yuen says its more of an old-fashioned festival… Aunty Nona had only two imperatives for the event: she insisted that it be held outdoors, and that it be held on May 1st.
Stepping over the ti leaves strewn on the floor in the midst of preparation for the big day, Yuen says this year’s event was imperiled by a last minute loss of funding. However, she says the community has rallied behind the event, keeping the festival alive.
For Yuen, all this work is not just about having fun and attracting some tourists hungry for an authentic weekday experience… its about keeping the culture of lei making alive…. which can be as complex as it is beautiful.
For more visit the festival website at leiday.net
Be sure to catch the newscast tomorrow, when we hope to have some coverage of the event, which runs from 10 am to 3 pm Tuesday, May 1st.
Before our Lei Day episode ends, we’d like to share a short video we produced for one of the May Day is Lei Day Festivals in 2009, one of the years that the event was held at the Palace Theater.
That day, the art of lei making was celebrated with a contest… while inside the theater, a crowd was treated to some quality hula.
… and also on the big screen, a short film showing the business side of lei making… a busy profession this time of year, as May Day tends to be sandwiched between the Merrie Monarch Festival and all those school graduations… all times when lei are in high demand.
Here is an excerpt from the short video that premiered that day in the palace – entitled “Lei Day Everyday” – featuring the ladies of Kui & I Florist in Hilo.