May Day: Festivities around the world

May 1 is May day, and here in Hawaii it’s called Lei Day. Most of the islands’ schools are off today, and surfers will likely be in the water (as the first legitimate south swell of the summer season is here). You will find me and most of the Oahu’s daytime party goers celebrating Lei Day in Kapiolani Park, on the eastern end of Waikiki. There, between 9-5, will be a lei making contest, good old fashioned hula and musical performances, as well as plenty of food and locally made gifts.

Lei Day is all about giving and receiving aloha — and wearing leis that are one of eight colors, each representing one of Hawaii’s eight major islands. At Barack Obama’s (and my) alma mater, Punahou School, there is a grand Holoku pageant that features a royal court and lots of Hawaiian music and Polynesian dancing.

In other parts of the world, May Day means something rather different:

  • In England and other parts of Europe, a Queen of the May is crowned, and there is dancing around a maypole to celebrate the first day of summer.
  • My students tell me that only in Zurich (but not in other cities in Switzerland), there right-wing groups riot in the streets.
  • In other countries such as Greece and Australia, today is International Workers’ Day, kind of like the U.S.’s Labor Day (in early September)
  • Finally, in (post-)Communist countries like China and Russia, there are formal parades in the streets to celebrate the people’s earnest work.

However you celebrate today, I hope you receive a little “aloha.” Welcome to summer!

Happy birthday, Brooklyn Bridge

As a New Yorker, I sometimes tend to get a bit jaded about the incredible sights all around me. Times Square might be cool to visitors, but to me it’s nothing but gaudy neon and schlocky souvenirs. United Nations? Pretty neat, but quite a headache when you’re trying to get to work on the East Side and some diplomat’s motorcade makes you take the “long walk” to the office.

But then today, I noticed that it was the 125th anniversary of the completion of the Brooklyn Bridge and I had to take pause. The Brooklyn Bridge is probably my favorite New York landmark – not only for the breathtaking views you get when you walk across it, but also for its historic importance to the city and to American innovation in general. First opened on May 24th, 1883, the 6,000 foot long bridge was considered one of the greatest American engineering marvels of its time. It is perhaps a fitting tribute that the bridge is still fully operational today, transporting pedestrians and vehicles much as it did when it first opened 125 years ago.

If you happen to be in New York this evening, take a stroll down to the old bridge and check out the festivities, which include fireworks, a new lighting scheme and even a U.S. Navy flyover. And if you can’t make it, make sure to stroll across it the next time you’re in town. It’s definitely worth the trip.

The Best Fourth of July Celebrations, According to Forbes

Happy Fourth of July to all you Americans out there! I hope you’re celebrating your nation’s independence with plenty of food, beer, friends and laughter. No matter where you are in the states, there’s bound to be a celebration of some sort to mark this historic day. In fact Forbes has put together a list of the best Fourth of July celebrations. Not surprisingly, the festivities at the nation’s capital top the list, but there are a few other places renowned for their talent for putting on a good Independence Day show, including:

  • Philadelphia, where the celebration goes on for a full week and includes celebrity performances and a carnival. This years special guest is Chaka Khan
  • Houston, where a mind-blowing fireworks display lights up the sky and event-goers are dazzled by a star-studded country music line-up.

To see the Fourth of July celebrations in pictures, click here.