Lei and the Month of May

Established on the lush, and volcanic western slopes of the Big Island, Coffee Times owner, Les Drent, roasted, and sold his first pound of Kona coffee in 1993. Five years later, Les moved his Coffee Times roasting operation to the beautiful island of Kauai, and established the Blair Estate shade grown, organic coffee farm in 2001. While his passion for farming is now deeply rooted in the Kauai soil, he continues to be a strong proponent for the preservation of 100% Kona coffee.

Lei and the Month of May
By: Lois Ann Ell

May 14, 2012

In 1928, May Day officially became “Lei Day” in Hawai’i. Technically and historically, this means May 1st. But over the years in Hawai’i, the entire month of May has become a celebration of flowers lovingly flung over loved ones.

This writer's kindergarten graduate donning kukui nut and plumeria lei

One reason for the prolonged festivities is that at this time of year, fragrant and colorful flowers begin to show up all over the islands. Although Hawai’i is in bloom all year long, there are many seasonal blossoms. There is a decades-old Plumeria tree in my front yard, which nine months out of the year is a lonely stalk of sticks. But come May, pops of bright red color show up on the tops of the branches. This particular Plumeria variety, with its deep, rosy, solid color is pretty rare; I have discovered over the years, from seasoned lei makers who knock on my door to ask to pick the flowers and to take cuttings of the tree. There are over 300 varieties of the Plumeria flower, the most common being white with splashes of yellow in the center.

Plumeria (also known as Frangipani) flowers are probably the most common flower to make lei with. They smell lovely, they are easy to find and easy to string with a needle and thread, unlike other flowers which require some expertise. Orchid lei are common as well, with some 20,000 varieties, in green and purple colors, strung and given by the dozens to visitors stepping off a plane or walking in to a lu’au.

Another reason garlands of lei rule the month of May: Graduation festivities. This time of year marks academic advancement. Whether it’s beaming kindergarteners, high school graduates or college completers, each ceremony and celebration is filled with the fragrance and beauty of lei. It’s not uncommon to see a graduate teetering off balance, top-heavy with dozens of lei, covering half of his or her face. Hugging a graduate draped in lei is like falling into a flower patch.

Deep Red Plumeria flowers beginning to bloom

Flowers aren’t the only type of lei however; there are money lei, with dollar bills folded creatively, there are candy lei, paper origami lei, ones made of cloth, ones made of feathers. The traditional lei of the island of Ni’ihau (just off Kaua’i) is a shell lei, made of tiny, delicate shells found buried in the sand across the beaches in a range of colors—pink, red, white, green—and strung very carefully to make a lei that will last a lifetime. These Kahelelani shell lei can sell for up to thousands of dollars in a store.

Lei tips:

• Lei are always presented with a kiss on the cheek.

• They are traditionally worn draped half over the back and half in front equally.

• Lei will keep longer in the refrigerator in a plastic bag.

• Dried lei will keep as a memento, often hung from the dashboard of a car.

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Categories: History & Culture, Island Life |

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