‘May Day' celebrations honor Hawaiian culture

Harmony Kamaka
Harmony Kamaka
Lei Queen Lauren Kanoelani Chang
Lei Queen Lauren Kanoelani Chang
Melvin Kaheana Chang & Sandra Chang, Parents of the Lei Queen
Melvin Kaheana Chang & Sandra Chang, Parents of the Lei Queen

By Leland Kim - bio | email

WAIKIKI (KHNL) -  May Day in Hawaii is, of course, Lei Day.  The tradition started back in 1928, and it was a way to encourage people to wear and celebrate lei.  The festivities at Queen Kapi'olani Park were an amazing mix of lei, hula, and great food.  More than eighty years after its start, May Day is going strong in Hawaii.

It's a day celebrating the ancient Hawaiian art of making and wearing lei.

"This is something real special in Hawaii," said Richard Williams, who flew in for the occasion.  "It starts the whole season off with May Day and it's just wonderful."

This Hawaiian custom became a holiday back in 1928.

"This is traditional from when we were little," said Harmony Kamaka, a 72-year-old kupuna who used to dance hula.  "May Day is Lei Day in Hawaii."

Kamaka's generation kept Hawaiian traditions from becoming extinct.

"When I was dancing, it was the renaissance of Hawaiiana coming back into Hawaii," she said.  "And now I see the younger generation speaking Hawaiian. They're getting very involved in the culture. It makes me very, very proud to be Hawaiian."

The tradition continues with Lei Queen Lauren Kanoelani Chang and her generation.

"So for them to fight through that and really cherish it and preserve it for us, we're so lucky it hasn't been lost," said Chang.

She says it was an honor to represent May Day.

"I wasn't nervous because everyone out there was a friendly face," said Chang. "So it was a wonderful experience for me to share with everyone what I really love."

"She's been dreaming about being the May Day queen for a long time and so for us, I think it was really joyful for us to watch her up there," said Sandra Chang, her mother.  "We're very proud."

"As a father and parent, your chest just swells with pride," added Melvin Kaheana Chang, her father.  "All through her life, she's been our princess, but now she's our queen."

May Day also brings people back to the islands.  It's time for kama'aina to come back home and celebrate Hawaii's beautiful culture.  Folks like Richard and Leilani Williams, who moved away to California.

"It's so special to me to be here," said Leilani Williams, who now lives in San Juan Capistrano. "It's so special. It's hard for me to tell you. I get so homesick.  I'd move back in a flash if I could because I love the people here."

"Hawaii will always be here and as long as we can keep this tradition alive, then this special feeling will always be here," said Lauren Kanoelani Chang.  "And that's something that people who go away can always know that they can come back and experience this wonderful thing."

And May Day also had a lei contest.  The grand prize winner was Reginald Dela Cruz. Congratulations to him.  In all, 192 lei were submitted.

And it wouldn't be a celebration without great food, and there was plenty of that at the May Day celebrations.

Check this out. Ono sizzling steak right off the grill, plus chicken, and even shrimp. No wonder all these people are standing in this long line.

"It's enjoyable and it's kind of crazy," said Alan Nakata, a food vendor.  "We love helping the people and feeding them."

"It's all about the food," said Anneka Elliott, a May Day spectator, who is visiting from West Newark, New Jersey.  "I can't wait to eat it. Wanna see?"

"Everyone was standing in line, so I said to myself, the food must be good, so I ran over and I'm about to be on TV enjoying this great delicious food that I just purchased," said Bill White, who is also visiting from New Jersey. "Everyone come down and get this delicious food."

"How hungry are you?" asked KHNL.

"Extremely hungry," he said.  "I just walked up to the top of Diamond Head just a few minutes ago."

Several dozen food vendors set up shop to make sure folks' throats were quenched and their tummies satisfied.