Wearing Hawaiian Leis
One of the first things you may notice arriving into Hawaii is the sweet and unique fragrance of Hawaiian flowers. This is the smell from Hawaiian leis. Greeters present these leis to tourists as they disembark into the airport terminals from the jet bridge.
Lei giving is one aspect of Hawaii that makes traveling there a unique experience. In ancient times, Hawaiians wore braided leaves, flowers, shells and feathers in garlands or leis to beautify themselves. In addition, people gave leis to each and to Hawaiian gods as signs of love and reverence. They also wore different types of flowers for different purposes. For example, Hawaiians considered the lehua flower, which is red in color, the flower of Pele, the volcano goddess. So Hawaiians threw lehua flower leis into volcanoes as offerings to her.
Occasions for Lei Giving
Today, people give leis for many special occasions. These are events like graduations, birthday parties and other festive occasions. They also use them for greeting and honoring special guests. Some of the most popular ones are the pikake and maile leis. Boys present multi-strands of pikake leis to teenage girls for their proms. The more strands of pikake in a lei, the more desirable the lei becomes. However, custom requires that young men give an odd number of strands, not an even number of one. This would be especially true during a prom. On the other hand, longstanding tradition calls for men to wear maile leis during special events. These are occasions like a prom, graduation or wedding.
So whenever someone gives a lei in Hawaii, graciously accept it as well as wear it with dignity and respect. Appreciate and enjoy this longstanding tradition that goes back hundreds of years, not only in the Aloha State, but also throughout all of Polynesia.