The tradition of lei-giving has managed to flourish throughout the years. A lei is a common symbol of love, friendship, celebration, honor, or greeting. In other words, it is a symbol of Aloha. They are given for every celebration imaginable—graduations, parties, dances, weddings, and even at the office. In Hawaii, any occasion can be considered special and “lei-worthy.” No one can resist the vibrant colors, the intoxicating fragrances, or the beautiful tradition of Hawaii’s most recognized icon…the lei.
History of the Lei
The custom of the flower lei was introduced to Hawaii from the various surrounding Polynesian islands and even Asia. In ancient Hawaii, wearing a lei represented wealth, royalty, and rank. Lei were also associated with hula.
Most Hawaiians preferred the Maile lei--a leafy vine that has fragrant spicy-sweet leaves that is draped and worn open-ended to the waist. However, royalty and Hawaiian chieftains favored the fiery, vibrant Ilima—a thin orange blossom that requires hundreds of flowers to make a single lei strand. Hawaiian Princess Kaiulani’s favorite lei was the Pikake—named after the peacocks in her garden—for the heavenly white blossoms and sweet jasmine fragrance.
The state of Hawaii is consists of eight major islands and each island has its own designated lei, however most lei are unavailable for shipping to the mainland due to strict agricultural laws.
- Hawaii – Lehua
- Oahu – Ilima
- Maui – Lokelani
- Kauai – Mokihana
- Molokai – Kukui
- Lanai – Kaunaoa
- Niihau – Pupu
- Kaho’olawe – Hinahina
Before there was air travel, tourists arrived to Hawaii via boat. Many old Hawaiians retell their stories of “boat days” with fond memories. When the boat would arrive at the dock, it was a social celebration with lei greeters, hula dancers, music, and photographers.
Since May 1, 1928, Hawaii has celebrated every May first as it’s official “Lei Day.” Hawaiians call it “May Day” and it is celebrated with Hula, parades, and music. Everyone in Hawaii is encouraged to wear a lei on May Day.
Lei can be worn, received, or given for almost any occasion. In Hawaii, a lei is given for an office promotion, a birthday, an anniversary, a graduation, or any special event. Yet more notably, a lei can be worn for no other reason than to enjoy the fragrance, take pleasure in the beautiful flowers, or simply, to celebrate the “Aloha Spirit.”
Never refuse a lei! Always graciously accept the lei with a toothy smile and a kiss on the cheek. (If you don’t feel comfortable with giving or receiving a kiss on the cheek, a warm hug is acceptable!) If you are allergic or sensitive to flowers, then discreetly and apologetically slip-off the lei. It is acceptable and considered a kind gesture to offer the lei to your spouse if you are unable to wear it.
Last, but not least, there is one more taboo…it is considered impolite to give a closed (tied) lei to a pregnant woman. Many Hawaiians feel that a closed lei around the neck is bad luck for the unborn child. (Head Hakus and open-ended leis are acceptable to give to pregnant woman.)
There is a lei in our name, I just noticed: cast lei nhawaii