Hawaii is known for beautiful garlands of fragrant flowers called lei. (In the Hawaiian language, the spelling of lei can mean either plural or singular. In English, it is pluralized with an “s” at the end. Both spellings are seen throughout the islands.) A Hawaiian lei is typically pictured adorning the necks of Hula dancers, but in fact they are much more integrated into everyday life.
Leis are international symbols of the Hawaiian spirit of Aloha (a word which means welcome, farewell and love). They are traditionally exchanged when people arrive, leave or during celebrations like weddings, births, graduations and retirements. They can also be worn “just because”.
Flower leis are easily the most recognized form of these garlands. They come in a rainbow of colours and while some blooms are scented, others are not. Both females and males can wear any type of lei, but frequently males are given lei made from Kukui nuts, Ti leaves or Maile leaves. Pikake, Tuberose, White Ginger or Carnations are commonly found on leis for females. Plumeria and Orchids are popular unisex choices. A flower garland might be used to decorate banisters, stages or reception halls.
Hibiscus is the state flower, and fresh blossoms are usually worn as a single ear adornment in Hawaii. Although a Hibiscus lei or Hibiscus garland is easily among the most returned results when searching the internet for leis, in reality they are not commonly made into fresh leis or garlands. Most creations featuring them use silk or plastic blooms. In addition to natural flora and fauna, a Hawaiian lei can also be made from materials like yarn, folded paper or candy.
Flower leis are sold everywhere in Hawaii, but it is very common for people to make their own. There are several styles of lei construction including braiding and twisting, but the most well-known way is to simply string flowers in a pattern onto cotton thread or fishing line.
Although leis can be given and worn for any occasion, there are a few rules of protocol to keep in mind: One should never refuse a lei that is offered. Once accepted, it is rude to remove the lei in front of the person who gave it. Offer only open leis to pregnant women. Finally, when done wearing a lei, tradition says it should be returned to the place it came from. This is often not possible today, so people hang them in trees, float them on water or place them on a balcony or in a car to dry instead. Never just throw a lei in the rubbish.