Hawaii’s sweet airport lei greeting tradition

Giving and wearing a flower lei (a garland strung from fresh blossoms that is worn like a necklace) is a common and popular tradition in Hawaii. If you have been to Hawaii before you have probably seen quite a few people wearing one and maybe you even wore one yourself. In Hawaii, leis are usually given to loved ones for special occasions, such as birthdays, graduations, achievements, funerals or to welcome someone or say goodbye. These colorful garlands are made of flower blossoms strung together. Flowers that are used for lei-making include for example plumeria, orchid, pikake or maile leaves. They can also include kukui nuts or shells, such as the rare Ni’ihau shells.

When the Hawaii tourism industry kicked off in the late 1800s and steamships brought the first visitors to the Islands, these visitors were often greeted with a fragrant flower lei. At the end of their stay, they were often again given a lei as a goodbye. During this time new legends around the lei sprung up, for example that it would bring you good luck. It was also believed that if you threw the lei overboard after leaving the island and the lei floated back towards the beach it meant that you would return to the island some day. Whenever a steamship left with visitors aboard, many leis were seen floating on the ocean.

Hawaiian LeiAs the tourism industry picked up in the 1960s and 1970s and most visitors were now arriving by plane, it became much harder to greet every tourist as the numbers went from just hundreds to thousands and then millions. However, this sweet tradition of welcoming people to Hawaii with a lei continues until today. Many travel companies incorporate an airport flower lei welcome into their vacation packages. Being greeted and welcomed to the Islands with a fresh and sweet-smelling lei is a nice way to start your vacation. Even if your vacation package doesn’t include an airport lei greeting or you booked your flight and accommodation separately, it is easy to add a lei greeting before arriving in Hawaii. Below you will find useful resources.