Keeping May Day celebrations alive

Celebrating May Day

Earlier this month, my 6-year old son got ready for his public school’s annual May Day celebration. On the lawn in front of the school, they set up a backdrop with flowers, potted plants, and speakers. The kids sang and danced, wearing kukui nut lei, plumeria flowers, red bandanas, colorful aloha print skirts and malo. It was a beautiful morning. Everyone was smiling.

Meanwhile, my 10-year old niece at another public school told us that they don’t have May Day celebrations anymore. “Why not?” I asked. “Because it interferes with instruction time,” she answered matter-of-factly.

My first response was: wow, her school is really focused on academics! Think of all the classroom time my son has lost! My next thought was: my son has gained a lot of experience outside the classroom!

May Day or Lei Day has been celebrated in Hawaii since the 1920s, when it was proposed by poet and author Don Blanding. “It’s a long-standing tradition in the islands, but annual school May Day celebrations are slowly disappearing,” KHON2 News reported recently.

I remember the excitement of getting ready for a performance. I remember practice sessions, worries that I would forget the words or movements, special costumes, and butterflies in my stomach. I remember the excitement as banners went up and flyers went out. I remember how happy I was to see my parents in the audience. I remember the relief and pride I felt to hear the audience clap as I walked off-stage. I want that whole experience for my son.

Here are 5 reasons to keep May Day alive in Hawaii:

1. May Day instills pride in the Hawaiian culture. It shows everyone that Hawaiian music and dance are just as beautiful and timeless as Western “classics” and contemporary music.

2. May Day teaches children about music and dance. They can express themselves in song and movement, learn about rhythm, and show their creativity. It teaches them to work in groups and help their classmates with words and motions. It shows them that they don’t have to master everything at one time; they can get better with practice.

3. May Day shows children that everything they learn is relevant. On most days, study time is divided into different subjects that may be totally unrelated to each other. May Day is project-based. From artwork, music, songs, costumes, and rehearsals, everything is connected and culminates in a performance.

4. May Day lets children perform in front of an audience. This can build confidence and self-esteem. Confident children have an opportunity to lead, and shy children may feel more comfortable performing in a group. 

5. May Day gives children time out of the classroom. Most of us are not happy stuck at a desk all day, especially when the sun is shining and the beach beckons. Why should we expect our kids to be happy indoors? Recess can be a disorganized jumble, but singing and dancing exercises mind and body, and gives them an outlet for their energy.

I hope that we continue the tradition of May Day in Hawaii. Do you have memories of May Day celebrations? Do you think we should keep this tradition alive in Hawaii?

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