31 Days of Life in my Hawaii Day 6:: Culture, customs and traditions: Leis

You are probably familiar with the old chestnut: “Aloha means hello, goodbye and I love you.” Here in Hawaii, leis* are our tangible expressions of Aloha.

In other words, if you want to say hello, goodbye, and/or I love you, giving a lei does the trick every time.

Here are some other occasions and situations in which it is customary, if not obligatory, to give or receive lei:

  • Graduations. Don’t even think about showing up to a graduation ceremony (or grad party) without a lei for the graduate. It doesn’t have to be a flower lei; leis fashioned out of ribbons, money, candy, and various other little gift-type things are common at graduations.

    Our boy’s high school graduation

  • Birthdays. When invited to a birthday party, unless it’s for a baby or child, the celebrant always gets a lei. In fact, if you happen to see someone wearing a lei or leis at work or at a restaurant or wherever; your first question will probably be: “Is it your birthday?”

The Coach and me at my 50th birthday party

  • Anniversaries. If it’s just the two of you celebrating, the husband might not always get a lei from his wife, but he should get one for her. If you’re attending an anniversary party, bring a lei for each of them.

Our 25th anniversary. Our leis are almost exactly the same as those we wore on our wedding day.

  • Sports events. For example, you bring leis to the championship game, or the last game of the season. Also you give leis to paddlers at the end of their races, and so forth. The rule of thumb is that, as for the above events, by giving your athlete or coach a lei, you’re saying “Congratulations!”

One of The Coach’s volleyball teams, after winning the state championship

  • Proms. This tradition has changed a bit over the years. Back in my day, the girl gave her date a lei, and he gave her one. I don’t remember that we worried too much about color scheme and whatnot; we just ordered a nice appropriate lei and then exchanged them when the boy came to pick the girl up. Nowadays it seems like the boy gives the girl a corsage or bouquet instead of a lei. But the girl still gives the boy a lei.

Our boy took two dates to his senior prom. Don’t ask.

  • Not only when you want to say Congratulations, but also when you want to say Thank You. Often when someone has helped me with a project or problem, I can let them know — and others can see — how much I appreciated their help by giving a lei.

My cousin, on the right, helped me plan and put on our girl’s grad party, so I made sure she had a lei!

  • Other milestone events. Like baptisms. Because again, it’s a congratulatory thing. Any occasion which is considered congratulatory, it’s nice to present a lei.

Our girl and her brother, after her baptism

This list is by no means exhaustive — I haven’t even mentioned things like bridal and baby showers, musical and dramatic performances, and even funerals. So you can imagine there are quite a few times a year when we have to stop by the lei shop and pick up a lei for a special someone!

* Hawaiian language note: The Hawaiian language has no “S,” and so it’s really incorrect for me to add one on to the end of a Hawaiian word like lei. But, I’m going to anyway, as a courtesy to those readers who would be confused otherwise. To my `olelo Hawai`i peeps: ho`omanawanui, this time!

This is the sixth post in my series, 31 Days of Life in my Hawaii. Click here to get the links to the other posts in the series.


1 thought on “31 Days of Life in my Hawaii Day 6:: Culture, customs and traditions: Leis

  1. Debbie

    Wow, I had no idea there were so many other situations where you receive a lei! How neat! I loved reading about this.


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