Hawaiian leis are very common as a welcoming tradition to guests arriving at a specific venue, resort, or gathering. Usually, it is a wreath, or a garland of fresh flowers tied up using a string and is worn to the receiver as a necklace. It serves as a symbol of affection and appreciation whenever travelers arrive or leave the resort. This tradition has been adopted by many countries especially in the United States during the 19th and 20th centuries.
But did you know that Hawaiian leis can also be given to graduates as graduation flowers? This is done to show support, love, and appreciation to the graduate as he/she finishes a certain degree of education. Families and friends bring bunches of leis to give to their loved ones on Graduation day and fill each graduate’s neck with Hawaiian leis. The more leis the graduate has, the more love and care is shown to him/her. Where did this tradition come from? And why is it still relevant until today’s time? It all started with ancient Polynesians and a few other Asians.
They started wearing leis as a form of custom. Leis are used to denoting the native Hawaiian’s royalty and rank in the social system. Like its purpose today, leis are also worn to honor each other and give respect to the Hawaiian gods. Leis can look really festive with the many colors of the flowers tied together but it can also be customized with the hula custom and the religious classification of the native Hawaiians. Until this day, the annual celebration called “Lei Day” is being done every May 1 to honor the history of leis and to nurture young Hawaiians on how it is made and make them understand its purpose.
Giving out leis on graduation day helps to keep the fire of this tradition burning. If you know someone who is graduating, giving them a beautiful lei is a perfect gift. The proper way to give a lei is to ask them to bow their heads as a sign of acceptance and after laying it on his/her neck, it can be concluded with a hug or a kiss. Usually, guests who are planning to give Hawaiian leis need to coordinate with the graduation committee on when they should give it. However, most prefer to give it after the ceremony so that it won’t be bothersome to the graduate’s clothing.
Another way to give a Hawaiian lei to a graduate is to buy one that is meant to be put on the head like a flower crown. This tradition is done if the giver wants to express good wishes to the graduate on his/her future endeavors and for good fortune. This one is usually given to the girls and would look great when worn with the graduation clothing. Aside from flower leis, there are also different types to choose from that will suit your recipient. It’s good to familiarize yourself with these options before purchasing.
The best-selling option is to give a flower lei which is usually made from fresh orchids. This classic design can be customized according to the color, size, and kind of orchids to be used. Orchids are a popular choice for lei as their freshness lasts longer compared to other flowers. This is a great choice for ladies as they also give off a feminine fragrance that will surely make them stand out in the ceremony. Flower leis give a sense of sophistication and elegance making them the perfect graduation token for a lady.
On the other hand, there are also leis for guys. Usually, leaf leis are given to guys as it is more masculine compared to an all-flower lei. You can also throw in a few flowers here and there but most of the lei must be made from green leaves. A popular option is also cigar lei. It is made from tiny buds of flowers that are usually red or orange that resemble a lit-up cigarette that’s why it’s called cigar lei. Hawaiians have been growing the cigar plant since the early 1850s to use for the creation of leis.
One type of graduation leis also includes woven leis. The normal flower lei is only composed of flowers that are pierced through the middle and hangs from a string. On the other hand, woven leis have a more intricate design where the florist weaves up several different flowers to form a certain pattern. This makes the lei look more thought out and sophisticated compared to a normal flower lei.
Hawaiian leis are not only limited to flowers. You can also use seeds, shells, bones, nuts, teeth, candies, and a lot more. Although these types of leis would make it look like an actual necklace rather than a lei. Nevertheless, it is still considered one and is also a popular choice for men and for children (candy leis). Usually, graduation leis are made out of flowers and leaves to make it stand out more rather than beaded leis.
The maintenance of a Hawaiian flower lei depends on the type of flower used. Usually, if the lei was bought a day before the celebration, you can put it inside the refrigerator to keep its freshness and scent. Most orchids usually last for a week depending on the temperature they were subjected into. The cooler the climate, the longer they shall live. For other flowers with thinner petals, their freshness and scent will usually last shorter therefore they need to be bought a few hours before the ceremony to better appreciate their bloom.
Hawaiian leis are a huge part of Hawaii’s culture and tradition that is still safeguarded until today. They are not only precious to look at, but they are also a perfect gift for any occasions, most especially during graduation. Ending a new chapter and starting a new one is indeed a challenge to the graduates but knowing that people appreciate their efforts and wish them well on their next endeavor will surely make them feel special on this big day!