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The Tradition of the Hawaii Wedding Flower Lei

Hawaii is famous for its beautiful flowers and also as one of the most romantic wedding locations in the world; a combination, you might say, made in heaven. String one Hawaiian wedding flower after another into a garland, and you make a traditional Hawaiian lei, as essential an element of any tropical celebration as a greeting of aloha.

Flowers are not actually indigenous to the Hawaiian Islands, they were brought by early Polynesian voyagers making incredible journeys from Tahiti, navigating by stars and currents in sailing canoes. It was these ancient adventurers who also introduced the tradition of giving flower lei (there is no plural spelling for lei) to visitors, mahini, and honored local people, kama’aina. This tradition carries over in modern times when a bride, groom or minister presents lei at a wedding service or reception.

Lei Tradition

Another charming local tradition dates to the days of the great sailing ships and steamers carrying passengers from around the world who would put into port in Honolulu for trade or tourism. Upon departing, passengers would toss their lei overboard into Pearl Harbor. If the colorful strings of blossoms floated ashore in the surf, those passengers would someday return to the island paradise. The unlucky passengers whose lei drifted out to sea may never see another glorious sunset over Diamond Head again.

Wedding Flower LeiLocal people often make their own lei since lovely fresh flowers such as orchid and plumeria are often free and abundant, perhaps growing in their own back yard when in season. However, there are numerous flower shops on each island where you can find reasonable prices for all your Hawaii wedding flower needs: center piece arrangements of bright tropical flowers for the reception tables, bouquets of all types, double orchid or fragrant plumeria lei, maile lei (usually for men) which are intertwined fragrant leafy vines, haku lei (a beautiful headpiece worn by itself or with a veil) for the bride, and perhaps a kupe’e, a small lei made to wear on the wrist or ankle.

There are a few unwritten rules regarding the giving, receiving and wearing of a lei. A lei is presented as a welcoming gesture and expression of affection and honor to another, so never refuse to accept one when it is offered. Wear your lei on top of your shoulders, not draped around your neck, and hanging down equally in front and back. As a matter of protocol do not remove the lei in front of the person who gave it to you. Be discrete and remove it later if necessary.

The fragrant beauty of every Hawaii wedding flower at your celebration will live in memory, like a gracious aloha forever.

The Art of Lei

Watch this meaningful and timeless tribute to the Hawaiian Lei. The tradition of lei making is celebrated in Hawaii each year on May 1st.

About the Author

Curtis McCoscoCurtis McCosco lives on the island of Kauai, Hawaii with his wife of over 20 years, KatRama Brooks. Together they own and operate Rainbow Weddings on Kauai. A professional wedding photographer for over 15 years, he is also a video documentarian, writer, and masseur. A practicing Buddhist, he also does Qigong on a daily basis.View all posts by Curtis McCosco

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