Lei is the traditional Hawaiian word for garland or wreath, it’s an instantly recognizable symbol of the Hawaiian Islands. Ancient Hawaiians would wear braided leaves, flowers, shells and feathers to adorn and beautify themselves. They would often make leis for each other and their god’s as a sign of love, affection, friendship and congratulations. It also became prominent among Hawaiians as means of denoting social status, conveying feelings, or celebrating important events. The materials of leis that were created in ancient Hawai‘i played a key role in giving meaning to things, for example, only members of the royal family could wear kukui nut lei. Those that were created from maile were often given as a peace offering. Today maile lei is used to bind together a couple in marriage.
To make a fresh flower lei, you first collect fresh flowers – plumerias, daisies, carnations, pikake – virtually any kind of flower. It is important to try to find flowers that have durable petals and sturdy stems so that they don’t fall off or become bruised. You then cut off the stem of each flower. Next, cut a piece of thread, cotton string, or fishing line to any size that you want your lei to be. Thread a needle through the string and begin to pass the needle straight through the center of the face of each flower through the back. You continue to do this until you have reached your desired length but leave remaining string on both ends to tie your lei together.
Leis have been part of the Hawaiian culture for years. To this day, leis are still used in many ways – to say congratulations, to welcome one another, or to use as decoration. Smell the aloha spirit through the beautiful fragrant flowers! Visit any Hilo Hattie store and be greeted with a beautiful shell lei!
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