By M. Keala Milles, Jr.
Imagine you are on your way to Hawaii,
off the plane at Honolulu International Airport, a sun-kissed local is
there to take your luggage and greet you with an “Aloha," a lei, maybe
even a kiss on the cheek.
This is a tradition many tourists envision when they think Hawaiian
vacation, but the custom of greeting with Hawaiian Leis comes from the ancient Hawaiians.
Fresh flower leis at the Honolulu International Airport
Photo by Cara Fasone
History of Leis
Hawaiian leis or flower garlands most often decorate an honoree celebrating a special event. In ancient Hawaii, they might be reserved for special people (like an elder or a kahuna) or to honor and welcome a guest. Early Hawaiians reserved some leis specifically for adorning the Ali’i, the chiefs of the time, who wore them during religious ceremonies.
These days Hawaiian leis are made and given to
celebrate a wide variety of special occasions; one big event in particular are graduations. Leis at high school and college graduations are just as traditional as the cap and gown. After they march and receive their diploma, graduates will stand in their section (separated by their last initial) and wait for family and friends to greet them with a lei. Today leis are not just made of flowers, but candy, money and even pool floatees.
HCS writer, Cara, at her Mililani High School Graduation in 2000
Photo courtesy of Cara Fasone
Hawaiian leis are given out to celebrate, honor, mourn and welcome; they are commonly dedicated to:
Kukui nut leis
Real or fake, leis are given with aloha
Photo by M. Keala Milles, Jr.
No matter what kind of lei or what the occasion, Hawaiian leis are are a symbol of aloha and are given with love.
What kind of leis are your favorite?
May Day in Hawaii, a Cultural and Historical Celebration
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