May Day in Hawaii

As a kid, I remember May Day always being exciting and a little stressful. (I get stage fright) May Day in Hawai’i is special. It is a time when most schools put on an annual May Day performance. Every class performs a hula or song, and the older kids get to sit as the Royal Hawaiian court, representing the prince and princess' of the eight main Hawaiian islands. It is such a fun and inherently Hawai’i celebration. Not to mention school got out after the traditional Hawaiian lunch.

I’m assuming the May Day tradition has roots from pre-Christian celebrations of Spring's arrival. Many ancient European cultures celebrated the changing of the seasons. The Romans, for instance, paid homage to the Goddess Flora, the goddess of flowers and Spring. These European celebrations were important to honor and ensure the success of the newly planted crops. It also allowed the community a day of play before their arduous summer work began.

But I was curious to find out how a celebration from Europe found its way to Hawaii and became a beloved childhood memory for so many of us. I discovered that Hawaii’s first May festivals came at the turn of the century and showcased Hawaii’s multi-ethnic identity. The first school to hold a May Day was Punahou, which took place in 1907. The school honored medieval Europe with a parade of characters from that time; think fairies, court jesters, milkmaids, and such.

Our May Day celebrations today or the ones I remember often honored many cultures, just like the first celebrations in Hawaii that dated back to 1896. Some schools featured Maypoles from Germanic Europe. Others honored our intrinsically diverse Hawai’i culture. Kids performed not only Hula but also a medley of dances. I remember doing a Japanese fan dance. Some schools featured Chinese lion dances, Filipino tinikling, and I even remember dressing up as a cowboy to honor our Paniolo (cowboy) heritage.

A Hawai’i May Day is truly one of a kind. They are a beautiful representation of Hawaii’s past that tells our unique story of welcoming and acceptance of all. Hawaii has been called a melting pot, and our Keiki do an amazingly cute job portraying this unique position through Hawaii's May Day celebrations.  

*photos to come

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