May 1st is Lei Day in Hawaii – a statewide celebration of Hawaiian culture filled with lei-making, dancing and ceremony. In honor of this special day, we had a chat with Lei Collective founder Ivory Kealani Lloyd, who leads lei-making and hula workshops around the world in order to share her culture and spread aloha. We asked Ivory all about the significance of lei and she gave us some great ideas for how to celebrate Lei Day at home.
Celebrating Lei Day with Ivory Kealani Lloyd
Lei has come to signify so many different things, but traditionally in Hawai’i they were used as adornments for ceremony, celebration or dances. There were different types of plants and flowers used for different occasions that carried specific meanings. For example, the kukui nut lei represented light and hope, and was worn for protection. You see them so often now, but the kukui nut lei used to be reserved exclusively for the ali’i or chief/chiefess.
Lei Day is one of my most favorite holidays. I grew up in Hawai’i and some of my fondest memories are of collecting flowers with our families, making lei with classmates and friends, and then celebrating Lei Day all day at school.
To me the lei completely embodies what we think about when we say the 'aloha spirit.’ From gathering your flowers, to making it and then giving it to someone, all of your aloha, love and intention goes into that lei. While I love that there is one day that celebrates that, I wish that we normalized wearing lei more!
When I visited Tahiti a few years ago, I loved seeing so many people wearing lei. There was no occasion, it just was like putting on earrings or a t-shirt. I thought, ‘I would love to be more unapologetically Polynesian and embrace wearing lei whenever I feel like it,’ because it is celebrating our culture.
Go out and gather some flowers or greens or whatever you have growing nearby and string it up! Make it a family activity, wear it and then give it away! One of my favorite things to do after our Lei-Making workshops is to make as many lei po'o as I can, wear them to the beach or out on the town, and then gift them to people along the way. I promise you, you will make someone's day.
The tiare (tahitian gardenia) has to be my favorite. Puakenikeni, plumeria, protea – the list goes on and on! One of my favorite native Hawaiian flowers is the 'ohia lehua, hands down. It's so beautiful and I love the story behind how the 'ohia tree grew in the most adverse environment. (Definitely check out the legend of the 'ohia lehua, it's a beautiful one.)