In Hawaii, any occasion - a hotel opening, a speaking engagement, a retirement, a birthday, a prom or a departure - involve giving lei (in Hawaiian, plural words do not end in 's'). It's yet another way in which a Hawaiian custom (making and giving lei) has become entwined with an Asian one (the obligation to give gifts).
Of course, it's perfectly fine to wear a lei for no special reason except to feel good, live aloha, add a little scent into the daily routine.
Even kama'aina (old-timers) may know little about the etiquette of presenting a floral garland. When is it proper to reject a lei? (Never.) What's the best lei for the occasion? (Depends.) Here's a primer:
- Hala, the fruit of the hala tree (also called pandanus), often is considered taboo among politicians. It is said to symbolize an end, a moving on, so it's right for a retirement or graduation.
- Plumeria, also known as frangipani, is often called the graveyard or make-man (dead man) flower because of its abundance in cemetery lots (which are frequently raided by hula halau members).
- Carnation, commonly associated with elected officials, and jokingly referred to as an Ariyoshi lei, since former Governor George Ariyoshi always seemed to be wearing one.