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Hawaiian Wedding Traditions

Wedding Couple Walking on Hawaii Beach

Newlyweds on Oahu [courtesy Hawaii Tourism Authority (HTA) / Tor Johnson].

In Hawaii, a wedding, or ho’ao pa’a, celebrates two lives joining together in a commitment of love. Modern Hawaiian weddings have meshed with western traditions, but there still remain a fair amount of traditional Hawaiian customs that can be seen in wedding ceremonies, whether they take place on beaches, sea cliffs, in beautiful gardens, at hotels, private estates or inside churches all over the Aloha State.

The ceremonies are often officiated by a kahuna pule or kahu (a local minister or holy man) who will escort the groom to the head of the altar, while singing a mele (chant). The altar is usually covered by a circle of flowers over where the bride and groom stand. The groom is traditionally dressed in a white shirt and light pants with a colorful sash at his waist. The mothers of the bridge and groom are then escorted down the aisle, followed by the bridal party.

The bridal entry is often announced by the melodious horn of the conch shelling (or pu), symbolizing the call of the sea, earth, air and other elements as a witness to her ceremony. The bride then enters, dressed in a flowing white gown and wearing a haku or halo of flowers.

Both the bride and the groom wear leis and symbolically exchange them with each other to represent giving their love.  Traditionally, a maile lei (made out of leaves from the maile vine) is worn by the groom, while the pikake lei (made from white jasmine blossoms) is worn by the bride. The parents of the bride and groom traditionally give leis to their children and the bride and groom give leis to their parents-in-law as well as to each person in the bridal party.

The wedding ceremony is conducted to soft Hawaiian music usually featuring a ukulele and slack key guitar.  One of the most popular songs to hear at a wedding is the classic Hawaiian Wedding Song, Ke Kali Nei Au (or Waiting for Thee).  This song, originally written in 1926 by Charles E. King, was composed for the operetta, Prince of Hawaii and has long been considered a Hawaiian favorite at many weddings.

The bride and groom exchange vows, and give each other rings. The Hawaiian tradition of the rings often includes the kahu reciting a chant while filling a wooden bowl made from the koa tree from a body of water, dipping a leaf from the ti plant to the water and then sprinkling the water over the rings.  This symbolizes strength, prosperity and health for the couple. At the end of the ceremony, the kahu will often end with a prayer of blessing over the new couple, asking for love and fidelity as well as protection from traditional Hawaiian guardians.

For Hawaiians, nature is an important aspect of their heritage. It is no surprise then that many brides and grooms use their connection to the earth to bring significance to their wedding.  Some couples take two different colors of sand and pour them together symbolizing the mixed lives which cannot be separated.  Others leave rocks wrapped in ti leaf on the altar as a commemoration of the wedding ceremony. Other traditions will incorporate sacred fresh water rituals, whether by collecting and preserving fresh water or by sprinkling the water over the couples.

Much like western weddings, the ceremony is followed by a celebratory feast. At such a feast there is music and a plethora of flavorful Hawaiian delicacies that make the evening an enchanting night to remember. Hawaiian wedding receptions may include traditional dishes like poi, lau lau, kalua pig and poke as well as a wide variety of local fruits such as mango, pineapple, guava, lychee and banana. Desserts vary from haupia, the famous coconut pudding has been a popular treat for centuries, to the more contemporary lilikoi cake topped with fresh Hawaiian flowers. With delectable dishes, festive torches, fragrant flowers and the warm night air, attending a Hawaiian wedding is a perfect way to experience the true aloha spirit of the islands

For more information about scenic places to get married in Hawaii, check out our Hawaii Weddings page for ideas about where to get married on each of the islands in the Aloha State. If you already have your wedding planned, but need to arrange you honeymoon, our Honeymoon in Hawaii page will give you great tips and ideas of what is available to you in the Paradise of the Pacific.


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