May first is the celebrated Lei Day throughout the Hawaiian islands, dedicated to the beautiful tradition of making and wearing lei.
The holiday was started May 1st, 1928, after the famous poet, Don Blanding, (AKA the “poet laureate of Hawaii”) suggested a special day be made to honor the spirit of aloha, which is best embodied in the lei tradition.
Lei Day is usually full of celebratory events throughout the community which include live music, food, hula dancing, and lei contests. Unfortunately, due to COVID-19, none of these gatherings were able to take place this year. However, kama’aina (Hawaii residents) were encouraged to make their lei at home and share their creations by hanging them on their mailboxes or taking photos.
Hawaii is well known for its “Spirit of Aloha,” which is a way of life on the islands. Being a new resident and having only visited here before now, I have been very curious about what exactly aloha means to the people who live here. We all associate the word with hello, goodbye or love, but what it means to natives goes much deeper.
The direct translation of aloha from Hawaiian to English is presence of divine breath. Hawaiians used to greet each other by placing their foreheads together and inhaling at the same time as a practice to exchange good health and spiritual power. Today, this practice is very rare and the spirit of aloha is shown in other ways. Aloha is the essence of being: love, peace, compassion and respect, living in harmony with the people and the land. It is all about caring for one another without expecting anything in return.
The lei is a symbol of affection representing aloha, given to those coming and leaving Hawaii. Leis are usually strung fresh flowers, shells, nuts, leaves and berries, but can be made of a variety of materials.
Here is my poem for my first Lei Day:
Spirit of Aloha
To wear such words
though one may not assume
to be in tenderest of messages—
of berries and blooms :
A breath sent
from me to you
of deeper meaning
who always knew
. . .
To be revealed within
the gauze of rainbow
in prismatic kindness
the Aloha Spirit
shines its colors
through the veils
of silvered mist
And my lovely he’e berry lei along with a bonus May Day rainbow outside the kitchen window!
Since day one I have felt this aloha spirit and been blessed to be welcomed into the community. Despite all the chaos with COVID-19 neighbors are always checking in on me, having me over for dinner and helping me get acquainted with the island. It has been a crazy time of adjustments, especially during these unprecedented times, but having aloha has helped immensely.
Writing and photography By: Katy Claire Funke