Hawaiian Customs and Traditions

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Hawaii’s traditions are as diverse as its people. Rooted in Native Hawaiian culture that has been passed down through generations mixed with the traditions of the peoples from all around the world who have made Hawaii home.

Here’s a quick guide to some local customs and traditions:

  • The Hawaiian way to greet someone is with a kiss on the cheek.
  • Always remember to remove your shoes before entering someone’s house.
  • When you are invited over to someone’s house for a get together, don’t show up empty handed. Pick up a dessert or another food dish on the way!
  • Usually a female is wearing a flower in her left ear it means she is taken. If she is wearing the flower in her right ear it means she is available.
  • Flower lei are appropriate gifts for special occasions such as a birthday or graduation. It is also the appropriate way to welcome visitors.
  • If you are planning to get a lei for someone who is hapai or pregnant, remember to ask the florist or lei maker to open up the lei. It is bad luck to give a closed lei (as it represents the umbilical cord wrapping around the neck of the unborn baby). Hala (Hawaiian screwpine) is never worn by a pregnant woman, as it can be considered a bad omen.
  • Don’t take rocks or sand from the beach or lava rocks from a volcano with you.
  • It is considered a kind gesture to bring back gifts from a trip for friends or family.
  • SPAM is widely consumed in Hawaii. The most common way is in a spam musubi – grilled slice of spam with rice wrapped in nori (dried seaweed) – which makes for the best hand-held snack/meal.
  • First birthday luau are a BIG deal in Hawaii, which roots back to the olden days when young children sometimes did not live past a year and the first birthday was a reason to celebrate.
  • During Chinese New Year, the lion dance is considered good luck. It is customary to give money in a lucky red envelope also called lai see.
  • Hinamatsuri or Girls’ Day is a Japanese tradition that is also celebrated in Hawaii. The traditional food of the holiday is mochi – a Japanese rice cake.
  • It is common to have a new home or new business blessed by a Kahu, a Hawaiian priest.
  • It is NOT common to use your car horn while driving in Hawaii (unless you are using it as a friendly hello).
  • Hawaiian Pidgin is a unique mixture of words, phrases, and idioms drawn from the many languages and cultures (e.g. Hawaiian, Japanese, Chinese, Filipino, and Portuguese) that make up Hawaii. Pidgin was developed when Native Hawaiians, immigrant laborers, and plantation owners needed to communicate with each other. Known to linguists as Hawaii Creole English, Pidgin utilizes many words from the Hawaiian language. However, not all words in Pidgin are Hawaiian. For example, kaukau (food) is Pidgin, not Hawaiian.
  • May Day is Lei Day in Hawaii. Lei Day is a statewide celebration with festivities across the State including a lei making competition.
  • Thanksgiving is celebrated Hawaiian-style. It’s not just about the turkey. You’ll find a wide array of multi-cultural dishes similar to what’s featured at other gatherings and celebrations.

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