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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, May 2, 2002

Lei Day celebrations blossom

 •  Lei contest winners are ...
 •  All-star band strung together for Lei Day

Crown bearers Lansing Sugita, left, and Edward Kaneshiro, both kindergartners at Holy Nativity School, carried the royal crowns at the opening of the school's 53rd annual Lei Day program on campus yesterday.

Richard Ambo • The Honolulu Advertiser

By Vicki Viotti
Advertiser Staff Writer

There ought to be a law, someone said a year ago, and since then May 1 is, officially, legally, Lei Day in Hawai'i.

Something higher than mere statute governs the campus calendar at Holy Nativity School, however. Fifty-three years of tradition dictates that the annual Lei Day program is held on the first of May.

Not on Friday, May 3, as it is on many school schedules this year, not on May-anything-else.

"Oh, no," said Mark Harris, who in 1986 was the school's Lei Day king. "No, no, no, n-n-n-no."

For such a tiny little school, May Day is a big, big draw. Cars choked the streets around the 'Aina Haina campus yesterday morning as parents, relatives, even alumni such as Harris streamed into the sunny central courtyard.

Every year May Day is an occasion for a pageant that lovingly adheres to convention. Every island is represented by a princess in a satiny holoku of the island's official color. Boys blow conch shells, carry kahili that the parents have made of fresh flowers and otherwise perform escort duties for the princesses.

Pohai Au of Nu'uanu, left, and her grandmother, Julia Sueoka of Lihu'e, hold a goosefeather lei made by Sueoka. The lei was entered in the city's 75th annual Hawaiian Lei Contest at Kapi'olani Park yesterday.

Richard Ambo • The Honolulu Advertiser

Over it all reigns a king and queen. This year, Ryan Kashiwabara and Mara Mukai have been crowned.

There are special Holy Nativity traditions, too. Songbird Iwalani Kahalewai and her Hauoli Serenaders have performed the live music here for 40 years. The father of the queen always is tapped to sing the hula that his daughter dances.

And it's a day, in general, for all kinds of sentiment. Graduating sixth-graders are honored. This year, the Rev. John Millen, Holy Nativity's rector, and Carol Naone, a preschool teacher for 25 years, are retiring and stood up front while everyone sang the school song. Harris and his friend Daren Kaneshiro, both members of Naone's first class, dropped leis and kisses on their tearful teacher.

Liz Cunningham, an assistant teacher, watched in the back.

"I went to this school back in the '50s and I was in this," she said. "My sister and I were looking for our May Day pictures, and you know, it looks the same."

It's not that change hasn't been suggested. Antoinette Leong, the music and Hawaiiana teacher who trains the kids for their moment in the sun, said the subject has come up. Why not do it on a Friday, so that when class is dismissed afterward, a long weekend can begin?

"We're traditional!" was her explanation.

Queen Elizabeth Mapuana Freitas was invested as the 2002 Lei Queen at the city's 75th annual Lei Day festivities at Kapi'olani Park and bandstand yesterday.

Richard Ambo • The Honolulu Advertiser

"I studied (hula) with Kealoha Wong, who studied with Maiki Aiu," Leong added. "I try to honor them.

"I tell the girls, don't drop your train, don't kick it, don't drop your lei. I show them how to hold the ipu correctly."

The holoku are put away neatly each year, and the girls use special practice gowns to learn the fine art of walking with a train before the big day, said curriculum specialist Jyo Bridgewater. The court princess parts are cast with the entire sixth grade, which is so small a fifth-grader was tapped this year, she said.

"It's so wonderful, the transformation of these long-legged girls in their uniforms, very athletic, into these elegant young ladies," she added.

The queen's extended family turned out to watch, including auntie Nanea Clemens, who flew in from Seattle for the occasion.

"She dances better when auntie is watching," she said.

Another aunt and uncle, Ceciy and Matt Shizuo, recalled their own Lei Day festivities at Maryknoll School, which, Ceciy said, also were held religiously on May 1. Their own children at Wailupe Elementary will celebrate May 10. She said that school and many others avoid the first of the month so that parents can juggle conflicting Lei Day schedules.

But it rankles her just a bit.

"It's like having Christmas on Dec. 10, or something," she said.

Nope, just doesn't seem right.