Kamehameha Day, June 11, was first proclaimed by Kamehameha V (on December 22, 1871) as a day to honor his grandfather, Kamehameha I. The first observance of the holiday happened the following year. Late 19th century celebrations of Kamehameha Day featured carnivals and fairs, foot races, horse races and velocipede races. Kamehameha Day was one of the first holidays proclaimed by the Governor of Hawai‘i and the Hawai‘i State Legislature when Hawai‘i achieved statehood in 1959.
Today, Kamehameha Day is treated with elaborate events harkening back to ancient Hawai‘i, respecting the cultural traditions that Kamehameha defended as his society was slowly shifting towards European trends. The King Kamehameha Hula Competition attracts hula groups from all over the world to the Neil S. Blaisdell Center for the two-day event. Prizes are awarded on the second night.
A floral parade is held annually at various locations throughout the state of Hawaii. On the island of Oahu, the parade runs from ‘Iolani Palace in downtown Honolulu past Honolulu Harbor and the Prince Kuhio Federal Building through Kaka‘ako, Ala Moana and Waikiki, ending at Kapi‘olani Park. June 11 is also the anniversary of the dedication of Kapi‘olani Park. The floral parade features local marching bands — including the Royal Hawaiian Band (the oldest municipal band in the United States) — and artistically designed floats using native flowers and plants. Many local companies enter floats for their employees.
A favorite floral parade feature is the traditional royal pa‘u riders. They represent a royal court led by a queen on horseback, followed by princesses representing the eight major islands of Hawai‘i and Molokini. Each princess is attended by pa‘u ladies in waiting. Pa‘u women are dressed in colorful and elegant 19th century riding gowns accented with lei and other floral arrangements.
After the parade, the state celebrates a Ho‘olaule‘a, literally Celebration, or block party with food and music. Cultural exhibitions are also scattered throughout Kapi‘olani Park — arts and crafts, games, sports and other events planned by the Bishop Museum, the premier Hawaiian cultural institution.
On the Island of Hawaii, there are two floral parades held. One between the towns of Hawi and Kapa‘au and the other in the town of Hilo. There is also a lei draping ceremony in Kapaau at the statue of King Kamehameha there.