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Wedding Customs: Hawaiian Wedding Traditions

Marrying in Hawaii? Be sure to add a touch of aloha culture.

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If you are getting married in the Hawaiian Islands, you are undoubtedly enamored not only of each other, but of the physical beauty and the culture of the place. Most couples choose to add a bit of Hawaiian culture to the their weddings, whether that means the music of a slack-key guitar or a groom wearing all-white. We've collected Hawaiian wedding traditions; it's up to you to choose which you would like to embrace.

Lei

Almost everyone who gets married in Hawaii includes the flower garlands known as lei as a part of the wedding ceremony. Lei are a symbol of love, respect, and all-around aloha. It is common for the ceremony to commence with the bride and groom exchanging lei. You may start with the groom wearing the bride's lei and the bride wearing the groom's, then switch. Or you may have a flower girl earn her title by presenting the lei at the appropriate moment. The groom usually wears a garland of manly green maile leaves (sometimes with small white flowers, called pikake, woven in). In a traditional Hawaiian wedding ceremony, the kahuna pule, or holy man, would bind the couple's hands together with a maile lei. Brides often wear several strands of pink and white pikake, which can be entwined with orchids or rosebuds. The bride might also wear a headpiece of haku flowers and greenery. Some couples present their mothers with lei; and at smaller weddings, why not give everyone one?

Hawaiian Language

Whether you are a born-and-bred Hawaiian twosome, or if this is your first time to set foot here, you will want to know some of the most romantic words from a very romantic language. Drop a few Hawaiian words onto your invitations or favors; and if you are really brave, practice a few to use in your toast. Our favorites come from our Hawaiian friends.

  • To cherish, love, or express affection: ho'oheno
  • Celebration: ho'olaule'a
  • Friend: hoa aloha
  • Man: kāne
  • Woman: wahine
  • Joy: hau'oli
  • Kiss: honi
  • Sweetheart: ipo
  • Darling: hiwahiwa

Music

Hawaiian music is so romantic, it would be silly to pass up a chance to have some of the real thing at your wedding ceremony. The slack key guitar and ukelele are the regional instruments that make the music of the islands famous. You can hire musicians, and you can also hire hula dancers to interpret the songs. The "Hawaiian Wedding Song," made famous by Elvis crooning it in the film Blue Hawaii is so perfect, and so universal at weddings here, that we suspect there may be some obscure law requiring it.

Dress

At a traditional Hawaiian wedding, the bride wears a long, white dress that is sort of -- now, don't be thrown by this word -- muumuu-ish. What that means is that the dress is flowing. It moves in the Pacific breeze, and has its own unique elegance. The haku lei, that ring of fragrant Hawaiian flowers, is worn around her head.

Grooms get to wear white, too, in the form of a white shirt (on the flow-y side) and white slacks. He wears a brightly colored, usually red, sash around his waist, and the green maile lei around his neck.

Thanks to a heavy Asian cultural influence in the Hawaiian Islands, kimonos are also worn at weddings here.

Feast

There are certain foods that you can't miss in Hawaii. Poi, a paste made from pounded taro root, is one of them. Laulau is a method of preparing meats, including fish and chicken, by wrapping them in ti leaves. Poke is diced raw fish flavored with vegetables and seaweed; kulolo is coconut pudding with brown sugar and taro flavorings. These days, the fresh fish and excellent produce of the islands take center stage, graced by a multi-ethnic mélange of flavors. Asian and Indo-Pacific influences like Thai, Japanese, and Polynesian have made Hawaiian cuisine a fascinating adventure. Ahi, or tuna, is seared and crusted in sesame; seafood is cooked in a Hawaiian bouillabaisse; fresh fruit sauces made from guava, papaya, pineapple, and lychee add flavor. When you plan your wedding feast, be sure to take advantage of your setting by highlighting these fresh seafoods, fruits, and veggies. If a luau is your thing, be open to modern interpretation - but don't skip the luscious kalua pig.

-- Lisa Carse

See More: Wedding Customs , Hawaii, Asia + Pacific