Fresh Hawaiian Lei flowers – the meaning, celebrations and types of lei flowers used in Hawaii

Fresh Hawaiian leis embody the spirit and warmth of Aloha and giving a beautiful lei to someone you love. That’s why the lei greeting is so powerful and  starts off a sense of place in arriving or even departing from Hawaii. The lei represents a powerful symbol of the islands and affection for loved ones, remembrance and the aloha spirit with Hawaiian lei flowers.

Hawaiian Lei

What is the meaning of giving lei in Hawaii?

The meaning lei giving in Hawaii leis are given in Hawaii for a variety of reasons with the most common being love, honor, tribute, friendship and peace. More common in celebrating a special event or milestone, giving a lei is a symbol to mark and share that special occasion. 

Did you know that Hawaiian children are also referred to as lei and many old and new songs refer to this type of tribute and imagery?

What is the meaning of giving lei in Hawaii?

A little history and custom of lei giving

Lei were originally used by Polynesians and some Asian cultures as part of a custom to give to someone as a sign of affection. Ancient native Hawaiian people wore lei as a symbol of their rank and royalty or as an honor to their god or to each other. Native Hawaiians that came from Polynesia continued the tradition of wearing lei making and wearing them for a special occasion.

A little history and custom of lei giving

Giving Lei in Hawaii

From ancient to modern times the customary giving of lei represents greetings, a farewell, congratulation, friendship, appreciation, recognition or some tribute to the recipient. Today common events or occasions for giving a lei include weddings and bridal showers, graduation ceremonies, anniversaries, funerals, retirement and even school or social functions.

Giving Lei in Hawaii

Celebrating Lei day in Hawaii

The first of May in Hawaii is called Lei Day to celebrate the making, wearing and giving of lei to someone special in your life. This tradition was started in 1927 with the saying “ May Day is Lei Day in Hawaii” was coined and even a song created called “May Day is Lei Day in Hawaii” by Ruth and Leonard Hawk in 1927.

Lei day in Hawaii
Lei day in Hawaii – lei draping of King David Kalakaua

Lei flowers and materials used to make a lei in Hawaii

There are a variety of materials to make lei and the typical string base using raffia, yarn, fish line or even dental wax for stringing and the popular flowers used for lei garlands include:

  • Carnations –  Ponimo’I in Hawaii was originally brought by the Missionaries with women wearing white and men wearing the red carnation
  • Plumeria – also known as Melia in Hawaiian or Frangipani is a five star like petal flower with a lovely tropical scent and an assorted variety of colors from white, yellow, orange, pink and deep reds
  • Arabian Jasmine or Pikake as they are called in Hawaii were originally brought to Hawaii by the Chinese immigrants and the flower is a mild and sweet scent that is used mostly in weddings and special events
  • Roses – Or Lokelani rose grown on the islands, roses are popular to use on lei as an accent flower in a variety of colors to match an occasion
  • Orchids (okika) Due to their sturdiness and beauty, orchids are popular to use with the white and purple dendrobium variety used for making an orchid type of lei
  • Ginger – typical Micronesian or Malaysian ginger flowers area used with a strong, seductive smell and used primarily for anniversaries, birthdays or special events
  • Stephanotis – Pua Male in Hawaiian is called the Hawaiian wedding flower with its aromatic and sweet scent. Pua Male translates into “Marry Flower” which is appropriate for this type of Jasmine flower and is the lei of choice for weddings

Flowers and materials used to make lei

Local island colors and flowers

Lei day is celebrated on all the Hawaiian islands and each island is also symbolized by a specific color and flower of lei to include:

  • Big Island – Red or the Ohia Lehua flower
  • Maui – Pink and the Lokelani rose
  • Lanai – Orange with Kauna’oa
  • Oahu – Yellow with the gold ‘Ilima
  • Moloka’I – Green with Kukui
  • Kaho’olawe – Gray or Silver with the Hinahina
  • Kauai – purple with the Mokihaa
  • Ni’ihau – White with  Pupu o Ni’ihau (shells)

Local island colors and flowers
Local island colors and flowers – Maui pink and the Lokelani rose

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How to eat cheap in Hawaii

Comfort foods of Hawaii

Virtual tours of Hawaii

Have you visited Hawaii and received a Hawaiian Lei?

Have you visited Hawaii and received a Hawaiian Lei Flower?

What did you think about receiving a lei and giving or receiving a lei in Hawaii? Please share your thoughts in the comments below.

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4 Comments

  1. Virginia

    I want to recive Lei on Maui , what nee to do?

    Reply
  2. Rick

    A friend of a friend came to visit in Kona and, at the last minute, my friend asked me to pick up her friend at the airport. With no time to spare, I picked up the girl and then then took her to Hale Halewai where the plumeria trees provided the necessary flowers for us to make a couple of leis. Being her first ever visit to Hawai’i, I remember how thrilled she was to actually take part in the making of this customary gift and beamed the rest of the day wearing them.

    Reply
    • emorata

      That’s sweet and thoughtful, also a very special way to enjoy a lei made by a friend.

      Reply

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Noel Morata this Hawaii Life

Meet Noel Morata

Noel Morata is the creator of This Hawaii Life along with a small team of contributors. Living on the Big Island and traveling regularly to the neighbor islands, Noel and team actively search and share the latest information and updates to Hawaii travel, food, adventure and various lifestyle activities on the islands for your planning and vacation. Aloha and enjoy This Hawaii Life.