The beautiful tradition of giving Lei

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The custom of lei giving is a unique and special tradition that was brought to Hawaii by Polynesian voyagers. In ancient times, lei were made of everything from flowers to feathers, seeds, shells, and animal teeth and each had different meanings. Lei made of maile leaves traditionally signified a peace agreement between chiefs. As tourism grew in Hawaii, lei became a symbol of the islands to the rest of the world. Many tourists were greeted with lei when they reached the islands and as their ships departed, they would place their lei in the water as they passed Diamond Head, for it was believed that doing so would help ensure their return to the islands someday. And while many visitors to the islands receive lei when they arrive at the airport or their hotels, lei are not just for tourists. In fact, those of us who live here often give lei as an expression of affection, or congratulations on birthdays, at sporting events, or when we just want to show we care.

Graduation is an especially important time for lei giving and it is not unusual to see graduates with lei piled all the way up to the top of their heads. While lei may be worn for any occasion -- or even when there is no special reason at all -- there are some unspoken rules that should be respected when receiving and wearing a lei. A lei should never be refused nor should it be removed in the presence of the person who gave it to you.

Fresh flower lei may be purchased at lei stands in Chinatown where my favorite is Cindy's Lei Shoppe. But a nice variety of fresh lei is also available at supermarkets including Food Pantry Waikiki and any Foodland grocery stores across the state.

Lei made of kukui nuts, shells, and more make great gifts or souvenirs. They come in handy when you're having a Hawaiian party or dressing up Hawaiian style back home, so be sure to check out the great lei we have available on our Online Shop or at any of our Shops of Hawaii stores, and share a little bit of aloha with your friends!

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