Sometimes the old traditions are still the best traditions. Want an example? Even in this age of high-tech gadgets and cleverly packaged products, few gifts are as meaningful—and heartfelt—as a fresh flower lei.
What It Means
A floral lei says “I care about you.” It’s a personal expression of love, kindness, and appreciation,” says Emily of the Hawaii Flower Lei company. “Giving a lei is a very simple but lovely gesture. It’s a gift of aloha.”
In Hawaii, leis are presented for almost any special occasion, including birthdays, graduations, anniversaries, luaus and farewell parties. Go to any high school or college graduation in the islands and you’ll see teary-eyed seniors draped with these colorful and fragrant garlands—the stacks of leis often reach the top of their heads!
Most historians trace the origin of lei giving to Hawaii’s earliest settlers, who brought flowering plants to be used, in part, as items for adornment. The ancient Hawaiians even presented leis to their gods during solemn religious ceremonies. Farmers of the day adorned themselves with leis to receive divine blessings upon their crops, and expectant mothers wore them to take advantage of their life-symbolizing mana (power).
The most visible celebration of the flower lei takes place each May 1, otherwise known as “Lei Day.” This annual cultural festival was founded by the late Don Blanding, the famous poet, author and artist whose love affair with the Hawaiian islands is still in full bloom with every Lei Day event.
Like everything else, floral leis have evolved with time. There are still familiar favorites, including plumeria, ginger, orchid, ilima and carnation leis. But new lei styles and fashions are continually being introduced. Visit a lei stand in Chinatown in Honolulu to see the amazing variety of lei creations now available.
Make Your Own
Lei-making classes are available at many hotels and resorts in Hawaii. You’ll be able to string a fresh flower lei to bring home as a souvenir. For a more lasting memento, you may elect to create a non-flower lei, including one made with kukui nuts, seashells or dried leaves. Most floral leis last only a day, although the more hardy ones can last a few days if they’re refrigerated after every use.