History Behind May Day in Hawaii

May Day Queen

Mom and Mele on May Day 1967

“May Day is Lei Day in Hawaii” is a song and a special occasion celebrated on the first of May in Hawaii Nei. The song was composed by Leonard “Red” Hawk in 1928 for the first Lei Day festival. Later in 1943, the composer adapted the words to the times and wrote “My War Lei” to emphasize the use of war stamps for leis during WWII.

May Day (May 1st) is also celebrated as Lei Day in Hawaii. Invented in 1927, Don Blanding wrote an article in the local newspaper suggesting that a holiday be created around the Hawaiian custom of making and wearing lei. Fellow writer Grace Tower Warren came up with the idea of a holiday on May 1st in conjunction with May Day. She also came up with the phrase “May Day is Lei Day.”

The first Lei Day was held on May 1, 1928 and everyone in Honolulu was encouraged to wear lei, and festivities were held downtown with hula, music, lei making demos and exhibits and contest.

Originally from Oklahoma, Don Blanding is also credited with inventing the custom of tossing your lei overboard when you sailed from Honolulu. If the lei came back to shore, it meant you would return.

May Day is also the time for school events. When I was in the 6th grade, I was crowned by teachers at Kahala Elementary School as May Day queen in 1967. I was selected based on academic achievements and happened to be the first queen of Native Hawaiian ancestry. Along with the king and our court of princesses representing each of the main Hawaiian Islands, we presided over the day’s activities for grades K-6. Each class performed a hula or another cultural dance for May Day.

I have a song arrangement of “May Day is Lei Day in Hawaii” with the Hum Ding-Ah Strum in the key of G with 5-chords for ukulele.

Aloha, Mele Fong aka Ukulele Mele

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Mele Fong is a professional singer, song arranger, and master of multiple strumming styles for the 'ukulele. She is an experienced educator with over 50+ years experience playing the 'ukulele and entertaining worldwide. Mele performs with her husband in the duo "The Hawaiian Serenaders" and leads student groups. In 1996, the duo represented the State of Hawai'i in concert at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C. Mele and her husband Richard Tom were both born and raised on Oahu and now reside in Maui.