May Day is Lei Day
If you’ve been following us the last year or so you know that we’ve spent a lot of time learning about WWII in the Pacific. We’ve read about Hawaii, Pearl Harbor, volcanoes and tiny obscure islands between here and Japan. During my time as a teacher in Hawaii, one tradition that I loved celebrating with my students is Lei Day so today, I thought I’d share some of my favorite Hawaiian-inspired activities!
What is May Day?
May Day is believed to have begun as a pagan tradition many years ago. The Celts of the British Isles believed May 1 to be the most important day of the year, dividing it in half between the light and the dark. When the Romans took over the British Isles, they brought with them a celebration known as Floralia, in honor of Flora, the goddess of flowers. The combination of these two traditions led to the celebration of May Day.
According to History.com, “The connection between May Day and labor rights began in the United States. During the 19th century, at the height of the Industrial Revolution, thousands of men, women and children were dying every year from poor working conditions and long hours. In an attempt to end these inhumane conditions, the Federation of Organized Trades and Labor Unions…proclaimed “eight hours shall constitute a legal day’s labor from and after May 1, 1886.” Americans now commonly celebrate this holiday as Labor Day.
In Hawaii, Lei Day has been a tradition since 1927. The lei, of course, having importance in Polynesian cultures for centuries. On Lei Day, Hawaiians young and old celebrate with hula dancing, parades, dressing in aloha attire and, of course, the giving and wearing of leis. Traditionally each island is represented with a certain color of lei. Shipping tropical flowers to Texas is expensive so we’ll be making carnation leis similar to the ones in this video with flowers purchased from a local shop.
To make your own flower lei, use these long doll needles, some string/twine, and the flowers of your choosing!
Baking Breakfast Guava Bread
I put out a call to a friend living in Hawaii to solicit recipes from Islanders for an authentic guava bread recipe. Surprise, surprise! Her most trusted source suggested the following recipe on Pinterest from Betsy Life!
2 cups all purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1 1/2 cups butter softened
1 cups brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon coconut extract
1 1/2 cups finely chopped guava peeled, seeds removed*
1 cup powdered sugar sifted
3-4 tablespoons heavy cream
1/2 cup coconut flakes toasted
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees
In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder and cinnamon. Set aside
In a large bowl, cream together butter and brown sugar until fluffy
Add eggs, one at a time, mixing well between each addition. Mix in extracts
Turn the mixer to low and gradually add in the flour mixture until well combined
Fold in chopped guava
Pour mixture into a greased loaf pan and bake for 50-60 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.
Cool in the pan for 15 minutes. Invert onto a wire rack and cool completely
Whisk together powdered sugar and heavy cream, one tablespoon at a time, until desired glaze consistency is reached. Pour over cooled bread. Sprinkle with toasted coconut.
*While Betsy notes that she chooses to peel and remove the seed from her guavas before baking for texture purposes we chose to live life on the wild side and put the entire guava into the bread! Worked for us!
Our Pearl Harbor Reading List
By: Jennifer Swanson
By: Stephen Krensky
Sources used for fact-checking this post
May Day: https://www.history.com/topics/holidays/history-of-may-day
Making Hawaiian Leis: https://youtu.be/fCOYj2zqmOc
Lei (Garland): https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lei_(garland)
A Brief History of Hawaii’s Lei Day: https://theculturetrip.com/north-america/usa/hawaii/articles/a-brief-history-of-hawaiis-lei-day/