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Hawaiian Lei for Celebrations and Guidelines

Dear Dr. Dave and Dr. Dee,

At my nephew's graduation last year, several girls were wearing beautiful flower leis and they appeared to be of Hawaiian descent. Would it be appropriate to surprise my niece with a lei to wear for her graduation? We have no Hawaiian ancestry on either side of the family, does this matter?


Love the Leis

Dear Love the Leis,

It would be a fine to give your niece a flower lei to wear for graduation. Purchase the lei as close to the graduation date as possible, and keep the lei in the refrigerator to keep it fresh.

The Maui Wedding Association (www.mauiweddingssociation) outlines the proper way to wear a lei and other etiquette. In brief, the guidelines are as follows:

Proper Lei Etiquette

1. The proper way to wear a closed lei is on the shoulders where it is draped half in front and half down the back.

2. A lei can be worn anytime by anyone.

3. It is acceptable to purchase a lei for yourself.

4. When giving a lei as a gift it is customary to give the lei recipient a kiss on the cheek when adorning them in their lei.

5. It is acceptable to wear more than one lei at a time. This is common for birthday and graduation celebrations.

6. Leis made with leaves from the ti (pronounced tee) plant are considered to bring good luck and ward off evil spirits.

7. DO NOT refuse a lei when offered one. This is considered to be disrespectful.

8. DO NOT wear a lei you intend to give to someone else. This is considered to be bad luck.

9. DO NOT give a pregnant woman a closed lei, it is believed to bring bad luck and symbolize the umbilical cord around the baby's neck. Only give a pregnant woman an open ended lei.

10. Bows are often added to closed leis and can be worn a few ways:

a. in the back like a clasp on a necklace.

b. to the side. If worn on the side it should be on the right if single or on the left if married or unavailable.

c. For graduation ceremonies the bows can be change from one side to the other along with the tassel on the graduation cap.

11. Leis can be incorporated into a wedding ceremony, baptism, Bar Mitzvah or bat Mitzvah, funeral or memorial service.

12. All leis symbolize love, respect, and appreciation.

For more lei information, see