What is the Tradition of Lei Giving?

Among the several early Hawaiian traditions that are gradually fading away, lei-giving culture is still intact and flourishing. When you visit the beautiful islands of Hawaii, everyone is seen wearing leis. A lei is a symbol of celebrations, love, honor, friendship, and greeting. Or, in other words, it represents the spirit of Aloha. If you take a walk around, you can find leis everywhere, from graduations, dances, parties, weddings and even at the office! In Hawaii, every occasion is believed to be exceptional and “lei-worthy.” No one can resist the lively colors, the strong fragrances, and the stunning tradition of one of Hawaii’s most cherished icon – the lei.

Woman presenting a plumeria lei.

Why Do We Give Leis?

While a lei itself has a high value in Hawaiian tradition, the way of giving a lei carries its own symbolism. Usually, leis are offered when someone arrives and leaves, meaning a rousing welcome and a hearty farewell. By tradition, the receiver bows their head down so the giver can put the lei around their neck. The custom is completed with a kiss at the end.

Lei Etiquette

Leis can be received, given, or worn for practically any occasion. In Hawaii, a lei is not specific for any time; it is provided for any reason such as a birthday, graduation, an anniversary, office promotion, or any significant event. To be more precise, for wearing a lei, no other reasons are required other than to relish its fragrance, appreciating the beauty of a gorgeous flower, or simply, celebrating the Aloha Spirit!

However, there are few ‘unspoken rules’ that one must know before receiving their first lei. First and foremost, never refuse a lei! Always courteously accept the lei with a big smile and a little kiss on the cheek. If you are not comfortable with giving or receiving a kiss on the cheek, a warm hug will do! If you have allergy or sensitivity to flowers, then subtly and repentantly slip-off the lei. It is an acceptable gesture to pass the lei to your partner if you are uncomfortable wearing it.

Hawaiian woman presenting a lei to a visitor on the beach.

Additionally, it is also seen as a rude gesture if you remove the lei in the presence of the person who gave you the lei. Lastly, there is one more thing to remember about Hawaiian lei tradition. It is regarded as a rude gesture to offer a tied lei to a pregnant woman. Among many Hawaiians, it is believed that a tied lei around the neck brings bad luck for the unborn child. However, open-ended leis are suitable to offer to a pregnant woman!

If you have fallen for the charm of the lei, making your own lei is an exciting and fun activity. Check out this step by step instruction guide for creating a lei with your favorite flowers.

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