For Debbie Edgerton, celebrating May Day on Kauai with her daughters, age 10 and 14, is special for many reasons. “I was born and raised on the Big Island, and now I can share the gift of the childhood I had in Hawaii and they’re able to experience it firsthand now.” Edgerton moved back to Hawaii from California to live on Kauai with her family in 2012. She’s been working as a sales executive with Timbers Resorts since 2006 and first lived in Colorado to work on the sales of One Steamboat Place and then onto Sonoma County, California at the Mayacama Golf Community. “My girls had heard all about my upbringing in Kona, but now they finally get to participate in many of the traditions I was raised with,” she says.
One of those traditions is May Day. In Hawaii, May Day is known as “Lei Day” and is celebrated as a statewide holiday. It was established in 1929 and is a celebration of Hawaiian culture and the spirit of aloha. “It’s about celebrating the traditions of Hawaii, whether its music, art or dance. Every island will enjoy Lei Day by celebrating it with leis, whether they’re making them or giving them,” she says.
A lot of preparation goes into the special May Day celebration. “At my daughters’ school they learn a hula dance and make traditional Hawaiian costumes and leis,” she says. “Each grade from kindergarten through twelfth grade has a specific dance they do. It’s so beautiful being able to watch these kids on stage in their costumes and their flower leis dancing Hula. I have wonderful memories of growing up dancing hula and I love to see my kids are able to enjoy it now, too.”
The beauty of this holiday, Edgerton says, is that it’s not controversial in any way, but rather, universal. “It’s about celebrating something beautiful and being together,” she says. “One of the themes at the May Day celebration this year is ‘Kākou’ which is the Hawaiian value of inclusiveness. Instead of exclusivity or separation, it’s about being together and embracing community.”
In that spirit, the giving of a lei is yet another expression of love or gratitude. “Whether it’s welcoming someone back home, celebrating a birthday, a wedding or even a celebration of life [after death], the lei symbolizes the love expressed in the making of something to give to someone else.” Leis can be simple or elaborate and is considered an art form, celebrated on Kauai every May Day with a lei making contest. “You see these incredible leis that are like works of art. You can see the time and artisanship that went into creating it.”
For Edgerton, May Day on Kauai has an even deeper significance. “A lei is a garland that has no beginning and no end, it’s continuous, it’s unity, it’s coming full circle back home.”