One of the joys of visiting Hawaii is taking part in the custom of wearing flower garlands or leis.
The custom of wearing leis was brought to Hawaii centuries ago by the Polynesians. But some archaeologists and historians believe leis predate the Polynesians, perhaps originating 17,000 years ago with primitive humans, who wore necklaces of bone and probably wore others made of flowers, fruits or foliage.
Because flowers were closely associated with their gods, the early Hawaiians believed leis of flowers or leaves were always appropriate gifts for supernatural beings and for one another. The gift of a lei conveyed greetings, love, admiration, cheer and good wishes.
The tradition of presenting leis to visitors started in the steamer days, when people came to the Islands on ships. Disembarking visitors were greeted by a riot of colorful leis and lei vendors. New arrivals selected leis as their first symbol of Hawaii's beauty and friendliness. It is said that many departing visitors would throw their lei into the sea as their ship passed Diamond Head in hopes of the lei floating back to the beaches of the Island. This would signify that he or she would surely return to the Islands someday.
As time went by, Greeters of Hawaii extended its reach well beyond the airport greetings, diversifying into flower farming, retailing at airports throughout the state and mail order gifts.
SAY IT WITH LEIS
Men wear leis almost as frequently as women in Hawaii. Special occasions such as birthdays, graduations, marriages, holidays and feasts call for leis. But leis also are worn merely for the pleasure of their beauty and fragrance. It's acceptable to buy a lei for yourself.