Island Wedding Traditions


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The formal wedding ceremony wasn’t introduced to Hawaii until the missionaries arrived in 1820. Naturally, unique Hawaiian wedding traditions were created and incorporated into the western version. When immigrants arrived in the islands, they brought their own wedding customs, so today, weddings in Hawaii are distinct and memorable celebrations for everyone present.

Here is how the early Hawaiian weddings went down:

The bride typically wore a white or off-white holoku, a floor-length, loose-fitting dress with long sleeves and no waistline. The groom was clothed all in white, often with a bright red or orange sash around his waist. It was common for the bride and, sometimes, the groom to wear a haku (head garland), floral for the bride and leaves or ferns for the groom.

The groom and the officiant, referred to as kahu, walked to the front to await the bride. After both mothers were seated, the wedding ceremony began with the blowing of the pu (conch shell) in four directions. This summoned the elements – earth, sea, air, and fire – to witness the ceremony.

hawaii wedding leiTraditionally, the bride was not escorted but walked down the aisle by herself. The couple then stood surrounded by flowers on the ground known as the circle of love.

Before their vows, couples would exchange lei*. The lei exchange is probably the most common Hawaiian wedding tradition used in modern times. Leis can also be used to honor important loved ones and symbolize the joining together of families.

While the couple spoke their vows, the kahu would perform ope’a (binding), using a maile leaf or sacred cord to connect the couple’s wrists together.

After the ceremony, the couple wrapped a lava rock with a ti leaf and left it at the ceremony site. This symbolic offering marked the birthplace of their union.

Of course, we’ll have something old, new, borrowed, and blue, but you may notice other customs from all over the world at a wedding in Hawaii. Here are some of the most popular ones:

Banzai Toast – This two-part toast is meant to wish the newly married couple 10,000 years of happiness. Read more

Senbazuru (1,001 Origami Cranes) – This time-consuming practice of folding 1,001 origami cranes is meant to prepare the bride for marriage. Read more

Chinese Lion DanceChinese Lion Dance – In the Chinese culture, the lion is a symbol of good luck. Brightly colored lions are usually controlled by two people who dance to ward off evil spirits and bring happiness and prosperity. 

Sayaw ng Pera (Money Dance) – Common in various places worldwide, the money dance was brought to Hawaii from the Philippines and is a fun, common reception event that many people here look forward to. The money dance is usually announced by the emcee and lasts for several songs. Guests line up to place money in the garments of the bride or groom while they “dance.” When the folded bill (sometimes in a provided envelope) is placed on someone, the other person needs to grab it using only his or her mouth.

*The plural of lei is lei, though for the sake of easier reading, leis will be used as plural.

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