When you give the gift of a lei in Hawaii, you are giving a part of yourself.
Sunday we picked my folks up from the airport and, as is local tradition, our arms were draped with lei (the word “lei” means both one floral garland or many). A sign of deep affection for the recipient, lei are presented upon greeting a loved one from distant lands. Locally, lei are presented for birthdays, anniversaries, graduations, weddings, births, or retirement; lei are also presented at funerals.
Mom and I sat under the shaded awning gazing at the ocean and catching up. We couldn’t help but notice a couple at the curbside. She ran to the car and he draped a beautiful plumeria lei around her neck. I hadn’t seen one that large before and wondered about it’s origin. They embraced for a good five minutes, gazing into each others eyes between kisses and hugs. It was beautiful to witness. She came breezing by and I remarked that her lei was very beautiful. She said her husband had made it for her from a plumeria tree in their yard.
In Polynesian cultures a lei is lovingly created with the intent to decorate a person for an emotional reason. His love was apparent when he presented her with the lei, her gratitude was apparent upon receiving it. The aloha spirit personified; all of us the better for witnessing it.
There are companies on all of the islands with representatives who come to the airport and present lei to visitors. You can also find lei along roadside stands and luaus. I highly recommend getting a lei when on your Hawaii vacation. The beauty and aroma of fresh, colorful flowers are a delight, sealing your visit firmly in your memories by invoking all of your senses. The cool delicate touch of the flowers draped over your neck is refreshing and, you feel really special!
Custom dictates that lei should never be casually thrown away because it represents throwing away the love of the giver. Instead, these fragile works of art can be returned to the earth. Set it afloat in the ocean or drape it on a tree under a moon-lit night. The beauty and fragrance will brighten anyone’s day who stumbles upon this respected token of love.
Free lei-making workshops are held every Friday on Kauai at the West Kauai Technology & Visitors Center. Reservations are required for this free event. If you are staying on another island, ask what lei-making opportunities are available nearby.