Hawaii is known for its incredible sunsets, beautiful sandy beaches, lush greenery, and landmark volcanoes—making it a scenic and romantic paradise to marry the love of your life. Most importantly, it’s the home to a multicultural history of Asian and Polynesian cultures. The Hawaiian wedding rituals are rich in aloha tradition. The spirit of aloha is sharing the essence of life through love, peace, kindness, and compassion, and is passed on through cultural practices, language, music, hula, food, and artifacts. There’s also an interconnectedness with nature and generational tradition that’s so special about the Hawaiian islands. We’ve put together a list of 13 wedding traditions to honor Hawaiian culture and help make your day even more personal.
1. The Oli Aloha
Hawaii natives used songs, chants, and poems to record their history and culture. This is why most weddings traditionally begin with the “Oli Aloha.” This chant prepares the space for blessings and welcomes the couple and guests. It directly translates to, “This is the sight for which I have longed. Now that you have come, love has come with you.”
2. Blowing the Pū
The Pū is a conch shell horn that was used to announce the arrival of canoes and Hawaiian nobles. It was also a method of communication between villages. In modern weddings, it’s used to call attention to significant events like the beginning of the ceremony, or when the couple shares their first married kiss.
3. Exchanging Leis
Leis are flower garlands that are a symbol of aloha, or love. It’s very common for couples to exchange leis as a form of love and respect. Leis are traditionally open-ended in shape to represent endless love. Grooms often wear leis made of green Ti Leaf, and brides wear pink and white pikake leis entwined with orchids, plus a headpiece of Haku flowers and greenery. Note that flower colors vary per island.
4. Ring Blessing & Exchange
This tradition is most common for beach weddings since it requires water. Both of the rings are placed in a Hawaiian wood bowl that the bride holds, while the groom holds a conch shell full of ocean water. The officiant blesses the rings by dipping a leaf in the ocean water from the conch shell and sprinkling it on the rings.
5. Pili ā nai kealoha
This beautiful tradition translates to “love that binds.” The officiant ties the hands of the couple with a maile lei while chanting oli. The maile lei is the oldest lei and holds a high significance of history, royalty, and devotion.
6. He alo ā he alo
Translated to “face to face,” this is an oli that's chanted at the end of the ceremony as a prayer for the couple to share aloha in their marriage.
7. The Lava Rock Ceremony
This sweet tradition stands for the commitment and connection of the couple. A lava stone represents strength and courage. The lava stone is wrapped in a Ti leaf and left at the location of the wedding ceremony as an offering to Mother Nature.
8. The Sand Ceremony
Alternative unity ceremonies are done across many cultures, but for Hawaiian weddings, the couple is each given sand that's taken from the beach to pour into a bag to symbolize their union.
9. Dance of Hula
This sacred dance is a form of expressing deep feelings and connection with the divine and nature. An ancient tradition that serves as a method of telling the story of Hawaiian culture and experiences throughout history. At weddings, it can be performed by the bride or by groups of dancers during the ceremony.
10. Torch Bearing
Since candles aren’t used in Maui, it's common practice to use torches as a symbol of light. They're stunning during sunset and are also incorporated into the first dance.
11. Hawaiian Wedding Attire
Hawaiian wedding attire is traditionally loose and flowy. The bride often wears a simple, yet elegant flowy white dress and a gorgeous Haku lei on her head. Grooms often wear white as well, or they opt for modern suits, along with their green maile lei. Hawaii is typically warmer year-round so guests often wear lighter fabrics and beach-friendly footwear.
12. Wedding Feast
Food is the best way to express culture and local flavors. Hawaii has so many delicious dishes to pick from with a fusion of Asian and Indo-Pacific influences, such as Japanese and Polynesian. Due to its proximity to the ocean, seafood often plays a central role. Fresh fish, sesame-crusted ahi, poke, lau lau (meat wrapped in Ti leaves), paired with rice and coconut pudding are all popular choices. Fresh local vegetables and fruits like guava and pineapple will brighten up tables and add notes of sweet and tart flavors. If you want a luau, the kalua pig is slow-cooked to perfection in an underground oven and is served shredded. And don’t forget poi, a taro root paste that's beloved by locals.
13. Hawaiian Music
Nothing sets the mood like the soothing melodies of Hawaiian music. The slack guitar and ukulele are iconic to the islands and instantly set the perfect ambiance. Listen to the 8 most romantic songs from Hawaii and you’ll be so in love!
Hero photo courtesy of Vanessa Hicks Photography