Covid-19 Cancellations: May Day and Other Annual Traditions of Hawaiʻi

It may seem that living in Hawaiʻi would be just an endless summer, but in fact, our year has seasons and a rhythm of events and traditions associated with them. While watching the NFL draft may have been a preoccupation that knew no boundaries, here are a few of the spring and summer events that have been missed, canceled or postponed here on Hawaiʻi Island.

Last humpback whale of the season

By April we say “a hui hou” to the humpback whales until they return in the early winter months, as many of our resort and second home human residents do.

Springtime Traditions

Springtime in Hawaiʻi is associated with blossoms, just as it is on the Mainland. Waimea was able to celebrate its annual Cherry Blossom Festival in February before social distancing and governorʻs decrees were in our vocabulary. COVID-19 has not stopped the plumeria from blooming at my home in Kohala Ranch, nor the jacaranda bringing their distinctive lavender to upcountry towns.

Jacaranda at Puu Lani Ranch

Jacaranda blooming in front of amenity area at the gated equestrian community Puu Lani Ranch.

But COVID-19 did stop the riot of cultural celebration that takes over Hilo town each year: Merrie Monarch week. I personally prefer watching the nights of the hula competition on television from the comfort of my living room, favorite beverage in hand. (The seating in the stadium is not the most comfortable and the performances last until late).

Hoʻike night at Merrie Monarch

Merrie Monarch Hoʻike Night 2019: Cupiit Yurartet from Alaska got hundreds of audience members on stage in Hilo

I do enjoy attending the free events: Sundayʻs Hoʻolaulea celebration featuring local halau; Wednesdayʻs Hoʻike featuring dancers from across the Pacific Ocean; and the Parade that closes the weekʻs events. Lodging is difficult to find that week, so I have often considered buying a little condo in Hilo town near the stadium.

Even residents who are not “hula people” trek to Hilo that week for the Merrie Monarch craft fairs that bring vendors of clothing, art, and hula implements from all across the island and beyond Hawaiʻi. For many of the crafts people, this single week is a large percentage of their annual sales. If you want to see (and possibly purchase) a small sample of their wares, try the online Pop-Up Mākeke.


Which brings us up to May.

May Day is Lei Day in Hawaiʻi, and with shelter-in-place orders in effect, some residents are putting lei on their mailboxes or front lanai. But students, who usually participate in elaborate school performances, have missed out on a tradition as eagerly awaited as prom or graduation.

And speaking of graduations, high school, and college students around the country are finding creative ways to commemorate their achievement while large gatherings are banned. You may be familiar with the tradition of covering the graduate in lei of all kinds – flower lei, candy lei…and the Governor has just given dispensation for florists to deliver, which means May Day and Graduation orders can be placed by telephone or online.

Memorial Day Weekend through Summer Time

My siblings usually visit in May, but this year those visits will have to be postponed. Their arrival usually coincides with the Nā Hōkū Hanohano Music Awards. While nominations were announced as usual in April, the award event will be held in September 2020.

Here in North Hawaii, Memorial Day is also Honokaʻa Western Week, kicked off with a parade, fun events on main street, and a big rodeo on the weekend. The highlight of our spring and summer parades are the paʻu riders, women and horses adorned with lei representing each of the main Hawaiʻian islands.

Paʻu rider in parade

Paʻu rider in Kamehameha Day parade along Aliʻi Drive in Kailua Kona. You would have a front row seat at these homes.

Across the state, Kamehameha Day celebrations are held on June 11th, or on the nearest weekends. Those have also been canceled for 2020 along with many 4th of July events.

Kamehameha Day at Kohala Statue

Kamehameha Day ceremonies at the original statue in Kapaʻau, North Kohala are like a trip back in time in this historic area.

Iʻm still hopeful that by fall we can enjoy the Parker Ranch Labor Day weekend rodeo and horse sale. That the Kupuna Hula competition will take place in September in Keauhou. That my beloved Kahilu Theatre in Waimea will open to celebrate its 40th Anniversary season.

The cancellations have brought me a greater appreciation of the richness of the lifestyle I enjoy on Hawaiʻi Island, the traditions, and sense of place. I look forward to sharing these times in community again.

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