Receiving a lei greeting when arriving in Hawaii has become a tradition. This traditional type of reception is a fantastic way to begin your vacation.
By taking the time to learn more about the lei greeting, including the symbolism and history behind it, you will gain an appreciation for one of Hawaii’s oldest traditions. Furthermore, you can learn more about the lei itself, including what leis are composed of, how they should be worn, how to dispose of a lei and more.
In the sections below, you will have the opportunity to learn more about lei greetings and the lei itself. You will also learn how to arrange for a lei greeting when you arrive at the Honolulu airport.
What is a lei greeting?
A lei greeting has become a symbol of Hawaii. Greeters meet visitors as they arrive (usually by plane) to place beautiful flower leis around their necks. The greeting serves to provide visitors with aloha spirit and kick off the start of any vacation.
While lei greetings have become common in Hawaii, the greetings and the leis themselves have a rich history that is worth taking the time to explore.
Understanding the History of the Hawaiian Leis
Hawaiian leis are a form of art. Fresh flowers are woven and braided into colorful, beautiful ‘necklaces’ that may be adorned by the receiver. Some leis are so detailed they look as though they must have taken hours to create.
Contrary to common myths, the word ‘lei’ does not refer to any specific flower. ‘Lei’ is the Hawaiian word for a wreath or garland.
The Hawaiian leis were first created as a sign of love and affection. Leis were given to friends, family and visitors for several reasons, including:
- Farewells and greetings.
The different flowers and colors used within a lei would symbolize a different meaning. For example, a lei made of the red Lehua flower was thrown into volcanos are an offering to Pele, the volcano goddess.
The History of the Lei Greetings
Hawaiian leis evolved into the traditional lei greeting in the 1800s. When steamboats brought visitors to the Hawaiian Islands, travelers were greeted and welcomed onto the island. In those days, it was considered bad manners to raise your hands above someone’s head. Today, leis are placed around the necks of visitors. Traditionally, however, the greeter would bow and raise the lei above their heart as an offering for the visitor to take.
This tradition changed during World War 2. When American soldiers arrived in Oahu, the Hawaiian custom was altered, and greeters placed the leis around the necks of soldiers and kissed their cheeks. After, others began to create legends arounds the leis.
One of the most popular legends created was to toss your lei overboard when sailing away from the Hawaiian Islands. It was said that, in doing so, you would someday return to the island if your lei floated down towards the beach.
What does a lei symbolize today?
Today, the gift of leis symbolizes friendship, greeting, farewells, celebration and much more. The Hawaiian leis have become a symbol of Hawaii itself. Some even believe that leis are lucky and can bring good fortune.
Reviewing Proper Lei Etiquette
Before reaching Hawaii, it is worth taking the time to learn about lei etiquette. Doing so can help you to avoid common pitfalls among visitors.
Anyone can wear a lei at any time. Leis can be received as gifts or purchased. However, you should never refuse a gifted lei. Leis are meant to show affection and are given for a number of reasons, including in greeting and as a farewell. Therefore, it is considered rude to refuse a lei as a gift. Furthermore, avoid removing the lei that you received in the presence of the person who gave it to you.
Finally, the proper way to wear a Hawaiian lei is to gently drape it over your shoulders. The lei should hang both down your back and front.
What is a lei made of?
Hawaiian leis are generally woven using one or more of several types of flowers, including:
- Plumeria blossoms.
- Pikake blossoms.
- Orchid blossoms.
- Maile leaves.
Today, leis can be a variety of colors.
The lei tradition has changed over time. Leis were once made of bones, shells, feathers, sticks, kukui nuts, and teeth.
How long does a lei last?
Hawaiian leis are composed of fresh flowers and, therefore, only remain fresh for a certain period of time. Usually, leis will remain fresh for at least a few days. You can lengthen the amount of time that a lei remains fresh by placing it in a refrigerator.
How to Dispose of a Lei Properly
A Hawaiian lei should never be tossed into the trash, regardless of how old the lei has become. In Hawaii, throwing away a lei represents throwing away the affection and love of the person that gave you the lei.
Instead, you can properly dispose of a Hawaiian lei by:
- Returning it to where the flowers for the lei were gathered.
- Hanging the lei on a tree branch.
- Burying the lei.
- Burning the lei.
How to Arrange to Receive a Lei Greeting When Arriving at the Honolulu Airport
As the island of Oahu has become central to Hawaiian tourism, so too has the traditional lei greeting. The lei greeting has become immensely popular over the years and has become a symbol of Hawaii.
These days, you have to pay for a lei greeting at a Honolulu airport. However, there are several companies that now offer this service. Lei greetings are relatively inexpensive and many companies offer additional services, such as help with baggage, general directions and to help travelers get to connecting flights when necessary.
Receiving a lei greeting is a great way to begin your vacation to Oahu. If you are planning a trip to Hawaii, it is worth taking the time to review some of the organizations that offer lei greeting services so that you can experience this Hawaiian tradition for yourself.