Growing up in Hawaii, LEI (flower garlands in Hawaii) were an integral part of my life. I remember climbing our plumeria tree in the backyard, stringing them them with my mom out of buckets of water, and presenting them to my teachers in damp plastic bags the next day.
We also celebrate May Day, as Lei Day in Hawaii (it's even a SONG!) and we'd make the trees "bolo head" aka bald, from taking every blossom to make as many leis as possible!
Moving into my teens, I gave a Maile lei (a twisted leafy vine lei that smells spicy and fragrant) to my prom date - a rite of passage as we moved out of childhood.
I wore a stack of lei over my long-sleeved, high-neck white formal holoku gown at my high school graduation. It's a unique and memorable feeling to have layers and layers of beautiful flowers around your neck, until you are sweating, hot and it feels like every petal is stuck to your neck, LOL! That was also my grandparent's last visit to me, and I treasure the memory of being with both of them, and the scent of all the flowers up to my chin making me feel special, celebrated and filled with love.
Even 'til today, I'm a lucky recipient of the handmade lei - which my childhood friend, Tracy, strings with the tiny pikake buds from her mom's yard. It's absolutely the best feeling to receive a handmade treasure like this - hmmm. It MUST be what our friends feel like when they get jewelry from us!
Enough about me. Here's a little more historical background on the lei:
The key to understanding the significance of the leis is understanding its history not just as a garland, but as an adornment for the body.
The leis was introduced by King Kamehameha I who unified Hawai'i in 1810. The first recorded use of a lei on a visitor to Hawaii was by Captain James Cook, who arrived in 1778 and received flowers and leaves from Kalanimoku.
The meaning of the leis is rooted in something that we cannot see - it's a spiritual connection between the land that it comes from, the person who strung it, and the person that wears it. It's links us to each other through love (aloha) and mana (our spiritual power). Best when made from the heart, and given with our highest intentions to celebrate and honor the recipient!
It's no wonder we love wearing flowers around our necks as a form of adornment. While fresh is "no ka oi" (the best), a beaded garland is wonderful to wear too!