What Does Lei Symbolize? A Guide to the Meaning and Significance of the Hawaiian Garland

A lei is a popular garland of flowers, fruits, or leaves commonly used in Hawaii as a symbol of love, appreciation, and celebration. It is known as a festive adornment that can be worn around the neck or on the head. Apart from its aesthetic value, the lei represents a culture of giving and hospitality in Hawaii. It is customary to present a lei to someone as a sign of welcome or farewell when greeting or bidding adieu to a person.

The tradition of lei giving dates back to the ancient times when Polynesians used this garland as a form of offering to the gods. It was also used to distinguish royalty from commoners and was used as a symbol of peace between opposing parties. The lei was once made from different types of natural materials like shells, teeth, and bones, but over time, the use of flowers and leaves became more popular. Today, the lei is an important part of Hawaiian culture, and it has become a symbol recognized across the world for its beauty and significance.

Lei giving is a practice that is deeply ingrained in Hawaiian culture. As tourists travel to Hawaii, they will often witness the beauty of the lei and the culture it represents. Being presented with a lei is a significant gesture of hospitality and is seen as an opportunity to celebrate life’s moments. Whether it’s to say hello, goodbye, congratulations, or love, the lei has a significant place in Hawaiian culture, serving as a symbol of joy and togetherness.

The History of Lei in Hawaiian Culture

The Hawaiian lei is a garland made up of various types of flowers, leaves, shells, or seeds. This beautiful and fragrant adornment is an integral part of Hawaiian culture and tradition. Hawaiian lei symbolizes much more than just a decorative ornament around the neck. It represents the spirit of aloha, a way of living in harmony and love with others and nature. Hawaiians have been making and exchanging leis for centuries, and the history of lei is an exciting and fascinating journey through the Hawaiian way of life.

  • Lei in Ancient Hawaii

    The tradition of lei making dates back to ancient Hawaii, where leis were made from various materials such as flowers, leaves, shells, feathers, and even human hair. The early Hawaiians used leis not only for adornment but also as a symbol of respect, love, and affection towards the gods, nature, and each other. Leis played a significant role in Hawaiian rituals, ceremonies, and celebrations. Hawaiians believed that the fragrance of the lei would please the gods and bring good fortune and blessings.

  • Lei in Modern Hawaii

    The tradition of lei making and giving is still alive in modern Hawaii. Today, leis are commonly given as a gesture of congratulations, love, appreciation, and welcome. They are an essential part of Hawaiian weddings, birthdays, graduations, and other celebrations. Lei making is considered an art form in Hawaii, and many people still make leis by hand using traditional methods and materials. The most popular flowers used in modern Hawaiian leis include plumeria, orchids, pikake, and maile.

  • Lei protocol

    There is a specific protocol for lei giving and receiving in Hawaiian culture. It is customary to present the lei with a kiss on the cheek, and it is considered disrespectful to remove the lei in the presence of the person who gave it to you. It is also important to dispose of the lei properly, either by returning it to nature, burning it, or burying it. Tossing the lei away in the trash is deemed disrespectful.

The Significance of Lei in Hawaiian Culture

Lei making and wearing in Hawaii go beyond simple adornment. Lei symbolizes the connection between people, nature, and the divine. It represents the spirit of aloha, which is the Hawaiian way of living in harmony and love with others and nature. Leis are a powerful symbol of unity and friendship, and they bring people closer together. The sweet fragrance of the lei is a reminder of the beauty of nature and the importance of treating the environment with respect. The lei is a tangible expression of love, gratitude, and reverence, and it will always be an essential part of Hawaiian culture and tradition.

Materials used in lei making Significance
Flowers (plumeria, orchids, pikake) Beauty, love, and friendship
Leaves (ti, maile) Respect, honor, and celebration
Shells, seeds, and feathers Unity with nature and divine

The history of lei making in Hawaiian culture is a beautiful and rich tradition that has stood the test of time. The Hawaiian lei is more than just a beautiful garland; it represents the spirit of aloha and reminds us of the important values of love, respect, and unity. The fragrant and colorful lei will always be an essential part of Hawaiian culture, and it will continue to bring people together in celebration and gratitude for many years to come.

Different Types of Lei and Their Significance

The lei is a customary garland or wreath typically worn around the neck or presented as a gift in Hawaiian culture. While commonly associated with Hawaii today, the tradition of lei-giving actually extends throughout Polynesia and other parts of the world. Below are some of the different types of lei and what they symbolize:

  • Flower Lei: The most common type of lei is made from flowers, which can vary in type and color. For example, the yellow ilima flower is Hawaiʻi’s official lei flower, while the fragrant maile vine is considered a symbol of peace and love. Flower leis are given as a greeting, farewell, or to celebrate a special occasion.
  • Maile Lei: The maile lei is made from fragrant green leaves, often intertwined with other plants or flowers. Maile leis are highly respected and are given to show honor or aloha (love) for someone special, whether it be for a wedding, graduation, or other significant event.
  • Ti Leaf Lei: Ti leaf leis, made from the leaves of the ti plant which is believed to have healing properties, are often given as a symbol of good luck or protection. These leis may also be braided together to form a more intricate design.

Lei-giving is an important aspect of Hawaiian culture, as it represents love, respect, and honor for the recipient. Leis are traditionally given with a kiss on each cheek and a warm embrace, making them a symbol of friendship and hospitality. Whether you’re visiting the islands or celebrating something special in your own life, receiving a lei is a cherished tradition that you’ll never forget.

Here is a table summarizing the different types of lei and their significances:

Lei Type Significance
Flower Lei Celebration, greeting, farewell
Maile Lei Honor, aloha (love)
Ti Leaf Lei Good luck, protection

Overall, leis are an integral part of Hawaiian culture and have a rich history that dates back centuries. From simple flower leis to intricate maile and ti leaf designs, each lei carries a special meaning and symbolizes the warmth and hospitality of the Hawaiian people.

The Crafting Process of Lei Making

Lei making is an ancient art form that has been passed down for centuries in Hawaiian culture. The process involves choosing the appropriate materials, crafting them together in a meaningful way, and presenting the final product.

The Symbolism of Lei Making

  • Leis are often given as a gesture of love or respect.
  • Each flower or material used in a lei can represent something significant.
  • Leis are a symbol of the Hawaiian culture and way of life.

The Crafting Process

There are various methods to creating a lei, but the most traditional way involves carefully threading the flowers or materials onto a string.

The flower or material used in the lei can determine its meaning and symbolism, so it is important to choose the right combination for the desired effect. Some popular materials used in lei making include:

  • Flowers
  • Leaves
  • Seeds
  • Feathers
  • Shells

Once the materials are chosen, they are delicately strung together in a meaningful pattern. The stitching process is often done by hand and requires steady hands and patience. Lei makers take great pride in their work and strive to create the perfect representation of love, respect, and Hawaiian culture.

Examples of Lei Symbolism

The following table shows some common flowers used in lei making and their associated meanings:

Flower Type Meaning
Plumeria Love and positivity
Tuberose Beauty and strength
Maile Respect and honor
Orchid Luxury and elegance

By understanding the meanings behind different flowers and materials, lei makers can craft a lei that is not only visually stunning but also carries a significant message.

The Significance of Colors in Lei

Leis are a prominent symbol in Hawaiian culture and are often given as a form of greeting, gratitude, or farewell. The various colors of lei play a significant role in the meaning behind them, each color representing different emotions and sentiments.

  • Red: Symbolizes love, passion, and affection. Red leis are often given to show affection towards loved ones or to express romantic interest.
  • Pink: Represents friendship, joy, and gratitude. Pink leis are commonly given as a sign of appreciation or to express heartfelt thanks.
  • Yellow: Signifies happiness, new beginnings, and good fortune. Yellow leis are often given to celebrate significant life events such as graduations or weddings.

The meanings behind the colors of lei can also vary depending on the occasion or event. For instance, green leis may represent harmony and unity during a wedding ceremony, while purple leis may symbolize respect and honor during a funeral.

Moreover, the materials used for the lei can also add to its symbolism. For example, a maile lei, made from fragrant leaves, is often given to celebrate important milestones or events and is considered a symbol of good luck and prosperity. Similarly, kukui nut leis, made from the state tree of Hawaii, are often given as a symbol of enlightenment and knowledge.

The History of Lei Colors

The use of lei dates back thousands of years in Hawaiian culture, and the tradition of incorporating colors into them can be traced back to early Polynesians. Historically, dyes were made from natural ingredients, such as flowers, leaves, and barks, to give color to the lei.

Over time, the color symbolism behind leis became more significant and widespread, and different communities and cultures began to associate their own meanings with them. This led to the creation of unique and diverse lei colors, adding to the rich history and symbolism behind the tradition of lei-making.


The colors of the lei carry deep meanings and sentiments behind them, making them much more than just a decorative accessory. They represent the emotions and gratitude we feel towards others, and they serve as a reminder of the beauty and diversity of Hawaiian culture. Whether it’s a flower, nut, or leaf lei, the intricate designs and colors of the lei continue to capture the hearts and imaginations of people today.

Color Meaning
Red Love, passion, affection
Pink Friendship, joy, gratitude
Yellow Happiness, new beginnings, good fortune
Purple Respect, honor
Green Harmony, unity

Table: Common Lei Colors and their Meanings

The Role of Lei in Weddings and Other Ceremonies

Leis are a significant element in Hawaiian culture, and they play an important role in weddings and other ceremonies. These flower garlands have symbolic meaning, and are often used to express love, respect, and gratitude. In this article, we will explore the various ways leis are incorporated in weddings and other ceremonies.

The Significance of the Number 5 in Lei

  • Hawaiian folklore states that leis should consist of an odd number of flowers, with the number 5 being the most significant.
  • The number 5 represents the 5 senses (sight, sound, smell, taste, and touch), as well as the 5 elements (earth, air, fire, water, and spirit) in Hawaiian culture.
  • Leis made with 5 strands are considered to be the most powerful and are often given on important occasions such as weddings.

Leis in Weddings

In Hawaiian weddings, the couple may exchange leis during the ceremony to symbolize their love and commitment to each other. The lei represents a never-ending circle of love and is a physical representation of the couple’s connection. The bride may also wear a lei made of white flowers to symbolize purity and innocence.

Leis are also given to the parents of the couple as a sign of respect and gratitude. In Hawaiian culture, it is important to honor the parents and recognize their role in raising the couple. The parents may wear the leis throughout the ceremony as a sign of their support and love for the couple.

Leis in Other Ceremonies

Leis are not exclusively used in weddings; they are also incorporated in other ceremonies such as graduations, birthdays, and funerals. During graduations, graduates are often presented with a lei made of flowers or kukui nuts, symbolizing their accomplishments. Leis are also given as gifts on birthdays and other special occasions as a sign of love and celebration.

In funerals, leis are used to honor and celebrate the life of the deceased. Family members and friends may place leis on the casket, and mourners may wear leis as a sign of respect and love for the departed.


Symbolism Occasion
Love and commitment Weddings
Respect and gratitude Weddings and other ceremonies
Celebration and accomplishment Graduations and birthdays
Honor and remembrance Funerals

Leis are an integral part of Hawaiian culture, and they carry significant symbolic meaning in weddings and other ceremonies. Whether used to express love, gratitude, celebration, or remembrance, leis are a beautiful and powerful tradition that continues to be cherished and honored.

The Use of Lei in Hula Dancing

The lei has long been a symbol of Hawaiian culture and is commonly associated with hula dancing. Put simply, a lei is a garland or wreath of flowers, leaves, or shells, which is presented to others as a symbol of welcome, affection, or celebration.

  • In hula dancing, the lei holds great significance. It is often worn around the neck or head of the dancer, and its colors and patterns are chosen to complement the dancer’s costume and the story being told through the dance.
  • Additionally, the lei is used in hula as a way to honor and respect the subject of the dance. For example, in a dance about a particular flower or plant, the dancers may wear or hold leis made from that same flower or plant as a way to show reverence and connection.
  • The presentation of leis is also an important part of hula culture. Before a performance or event, it is common for dancers to exchange leis with one another and with their audience members as a gesture of aloha (love, affection, and peace).

One key aspect of lei-making is the number of flowers or elements included. Each lei is made with a specific number of flowers or elements and this number has its own special meaning.

Number of Flowers/Elements Meaning
1 Unity and connection
2 Love and partnership
3 Mind, body, and spirit
4 Foundation and stability
5 Health and growth
6 Balance and harmony

Thus, the lei is not just a beautiful accessory but a symbol of intention and meaning. Whether used in hula dancing or given as a gift, each lei represents connection, respect, and love for the recipient and the culture it represents.

The Social and Cultural Significance of Gifting Lei

Lei, a garland of flowers, leaves, or shells, has a deep cultural significance in Hawaiian and Polynesian culture. Lei is not only a form of adornment, but it is also a way of showing respect, love, and gratitude towards others. Gifting lei to someone can express a variety of sentiments, making it a versatile and meaningful gift for any occasion. One of the most important aspects of gifting lei is the number of flowers or strands in a lei, as each number has a unique meaning.

  • 1 Flower/Strand: Represents being single or looking for love.
  • 2 Flowers/Strands: Represents love and partnership.
  • 3 Flowers/Strands: Represents friendship, unity, and family.
  • 4 Flowers/Strands: Represents hard work, determination, and stability.
  • 5 Flowers/Strands: Represents health, wealth, and prosperity.
  • 6 Flowers/Strands: Represents creativity, imagination, and harmony.
  • 7 Flowers/Strands: Represents good luck and fortune.

The number seven is considered to be a lucky number in Hawaiian culture, and gifting a lei with seven strands or flowers is believed to bring good luck and fortune to the recipient. Therefore, lei with seven strands or flowers is commonly given for special occasions such as weddings, graduations, and job interviews, as it is believed to enhance the recipient’s success and prosperity in life.

Occasion Number of Strands/Flowers Meaning
Weddings 7 Good luck and fortune for the couple’s future
Graduations 7 Success and prosperity in the graduate’s future career
Job Interviews 7 Luck and success in the interview and future career

Gifting lei with seven strands or flowers is not only a way to bring good luck and fortune, but it also represents the love and respect that the giver has for the recipient. The lei symbolizes the connection and bond between two individuals and the hope for a prosperous future together.

The Evolution of Lei in Modern Times

The lei has long been a symbol of Hawaiian culture, with its origins dating back centuries. Over time, the lei has evolved and taken on new meanings with changing cultural practices and societal values. In modern times, the lei symbolizes a number of different things. One of the most significant is the number 8.

  • The significance of the number 8
  • The lei as a symbol of hospitality
  • The lei as a form of communication

The number 8 is highly symbolic in Hawaiian culture. It represents infinity, abundance, and perfection. In fact, the word for “eight” in Hawaiian is “walea,” which also means “to be happy” or “to celebrate.”

This is why the number 8 is commonly used in the creation of lei. Many traditional leis are made up of eight flowers or leaves, each representing a different part of nature. For example, a lei made from eight maile leaves symbolizes strength and is often worn by warriors. A lei made from eight pikake flowers, on the other hand, is a symbol of love and is often given as a gift to a loved one.

Even in modern times, the number 8 continues to be an important part of lei making. Many lei makers strive to incorporate eight elements into their designs, whether it be eight different types of flowers or eight different colors.

Traditional lei designs featuring the number 8 Meaning
Eight Maile Leaves Strength
Eight Pikake Flowers Love
Eight Lehua Blossoms Devotion
Eight Ilima Flowers Resilience

Overall, the number 8 is just one example of how the lei has evolved in modern times. While its traditional meanings still hold significance, the lei has also become a symbol of hospitality, a form of communication and a way to celebrate life’s special moments.

The Globalization of Lei Exchange Outside of Hawaii

Lei exchange has long been a cultural tradition among the people of Hawaii. But with the rise of tourism and the spread of Hawaiian culture to other parts of the world, the practice of lei giving has gone global. However, with this globalization comes a dilution of the significance and meaning behind the lei. Here are some of the impacts of lei exchange outside of Hawaii:

  • Lei exchange has become a token of hospitality and friendship around the world, particularly in places with large Hawaiian populations or strong ties to Hawaiian culture.
  • Many non-Hawaiians may not be aware of the cultural significance of lei exchange, leading to a commercialization of the practice and a focus on the lei’s aesthetic value rather than its cultural significance.
  • Some people may also use fake or non-traditional materials to make leis, further diluting the significance of the practice.

Despite these potential negative impacts, the globalization of lei exchange also presents an opportunity for the continued appreciation and celebration of Hawaiian culture. It allows for greater exposure and understanding of the tradition and its meaning, and provides an opportunity for people of different cultures to come together and exchange a symbol of hospitality and friendship.

One way to ensure the continued significance of lei exchange is to educate people about its cultural origins and meaning. This can be done through cultural events and outreach programs that educate people about Hawaiian culture and its traditions.

Number Lei Materials Significance
1 Maile Represents royalty and is reserved for those of high status or significance.
2 Orchid Represents love, beauty, and luxury.
3 Plumeria Represents new beginnings, positivity, and friendship.
4 Tuberose Represents purity, innocence, and sweetness.
5 Ti Leaf Represents good luck, protection, and strength.
6 Ginger Represents exotic beauty, passion, and fragility.
7 Hibiscus Represents delicate beauty, love, and unity.
8 Kukui Nut Represents enlightenment, peace, and new beginnings.
9 Mokihana Represents Kauai and is said to bring good luck.

As lei exchange continues to spread outside of Hawaii, it’s important to remember the origins and meanings behind this cultural practice. By educating people and continuing to use traditional materials and techniques, we can ensure the significance and cultural value of lei exchange is preserved for generations to come.

The Preservation of Lei Making and Its Cultural Value in Contemporary Society

Lei making is a significant part of Hawaiian culture and has been for centuries. The art of lei making involves carefully weaving flowers, leaves, and other natural materials into a garland or necklace that is used to adorn the neck, wrists, or head. The lei is a symbol of love, friendship, and aloha spirit and holds great cultural value for the Hawaiian people.

With the rise of tourism in Hawaii, lei making has become an important industry for local artisans. However, the commercialization of lei making has also put the traditional artform at risk. To combat this, efforts have been made to preserve the authenticity and cultural value of lei making in contemporary society.

  • One organization that is working towards the preservation of lei making is the Hawaiian Lei Company. They employ local craftsmen and women who use traditional techniques to create handcrafted leis, ensuring that the artform stays true to its roots.
  • Another important aspect of lei making preservation is the passing down of knowledge from one generation to the next. Many families and communities have taken the responsibility of teaching younger generations the art of lei making, ensuring that the tradition continues on.
  • There are also cultural events and festivals dedicated to celebrating lei making and its significance in Hawaiian culture. These events provide opportunities for artisans and enthusiasts to come together and share their knowledge and passion for the artform.

Aside from the preservation of lei making techniques, the cultural value of leis remains an integral part of contemporary Hawaiian society. Leis are still widely used in ceremonies and celebrations, and they hold cultural significance beyond their aesthetic value.

The practice of giving and receiving leis is an important aspect of the Hawaiian concept of aloha spirit, which emphasizes compassion and cooperation towards others. The use of leis as gifts and adornments is a way to honor and show appreciation to individuals and communities, creating a sense of unity and harmony.

Flower Meaning
Plumeria Love and positivity
Tuberose Purity and peace
Maile Respect and honor
Orchid Aloha spirit and luxury

Overall, the preservation of lei making and its cultural value in contemporary society is essential for the continued appreciation and recognition of Hawaiian culture. By keeping alive traditional techniques, passing on knowledge to younger generations, and celebrating the significance of leis, the Hawaiian people can ensure that their culture is kept alive and cherished for years to come.

FAQs: What Does Lei Symbolize?

1. What is a lei?

A lei is a garland made of flowers, leaves, shells, feathers, or other natural materials. It is a symbol of affection, friendship, respect, and hospitality.

2. Who wears a lei?

Leis are commonly worn in Hawaii and other Pacific islands, but they are also used in other parts of the world. Anyone can wear a lei, whether as a welcome greeting, a celebration of a special occasion, or a simple expression of love.

3. What occasions are leis used for?

Leis are used for a variety of occasions, such as weddings, graduations, birthdays, anniversaries, and funerals. They are also used as a sign of respect for visitors or as a token of gratitude to hosts.

4. Can leis be made of any material?

Yes, leis can be made of any natural or synthetic material, such as flowers, leaves, shells, feathers, yarn, ribbon, or paper. The most popular materials for leis in Hawaii are plumeria, orchids, and maile.

5. What do different types of leis represent?

Different types of leis represent different things. For example, a maile lei is a symbol of honor and respect, while a kukui nut lei is a symbol of enlightenment and peace. A ti leaf lei is a symbol of good luck and protection, while a hala fruit lei is a symbol of fertility and creativity.

6. How are leis given and received?

Leis are usually given and received with a kiss on the cheek or a hug. They can be placed on the neck, shoulder, or head, depending on the occasion and the type of lei. It is customary to wear a lei for the rest of the day or until it wilts.

7. What is the significance of lei-giving?

Lei-giving is a way of honoring and celebrating relationships, whether between friends, family members, or strangers. It is a way of expressing love, gratitude, and aloha spirit, and of fostering connections and goodwill.


Thank you for taking the time to learn about what leis symbolize. Whether you are planning a trip to Hawaii or simply curious about the culture, we hope this article has been informative and enjoyable. Remember to spread love and aloha spirit wherever you go, and come back soon for more insights into the rich and diverse world we live in. Mahalo!