Saturday, May 01, 2010

May Day in Hawaii

Flower leis flown in from Honolulu. on Twitpic
May Day is lei day in Hawaii
Flowers and garlands everywhere…
May 1st is the day of celebration for workers’ movements everywhere, but many people disassociate themselves from the festivities because of the date’s connection with communism. In Hawaii May Day is Lei Day, which everyone joins in without hesitation.

Leis can be simple or elaborate, multi- or mono-colored, expensive or free as the flowers from one’s own back yard. They are given at birthdays, airports, weddings, graduations, banquets, holidays, or sometimes just because. They are given freely without expectation of reciprocation, often to people that one has never met before. There’s supposed to be no lasting commitment—the flowers fade quickly even in a fridge; the receipt of a lei therefore usually “means” little. But sometimes we remember the occasions forever.

A lei is granted with a kiss. Many young boys, grimacing, receive their first kiss from a non-family member when receiving a lei. Later, for the cost of a few flowers it’s a good pretext for a young adolescent male to peck the cheek of a girl he’s long admired (if your mother made the lei, don’t tell the girls, they feel funny when you say that).

When I was growing up, every woman in Hawaii knew how to string a lei. It’s far from a lost art, but fewer people take the trouble now, much like baking bread or writing a letter by hand. But I’m not lamenting days that are gone, rather I’m happy that the tradition of Lei Day is continuing and appears to be getting stronger. Frankly, if I may say so, I prefer Hawaii’s version of May Day to the other one. © 2010 Stephen Yuen

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