The history of Hawaiian lei is interesting. Traditionally, flowers and leaves were not the only things used to make Hawaiian lei. Hawaiians also used shells, seeds, fruits, feathers, hair, ivory, even teeth and bones of animals to make the lei. The feather and shell lei from old times can be seen at the Bishop museum at Oahu. Even today, shells and feathers are used along with flowers and leaves to make the lei.
Lei is considered as a symbol of Aloha in Hawaii which means peace, love, affection, friendship and respect. Lei is used in Hawaii from a long time even by opposition parties as a sign of peace and harmony.
Lei was introduced to Hawaiians by Polynesians, who loved decorations with strings of flowers. During their voyage to Hawaii around the 12th century, Polynesian voyagers brought the lei along with many other things like new plants, food items and even medicines. As many of the voyagers settled in Hawaii, the beautiful lei also became a part of the Hawaiian culture due to the cultural influence. Hawaii became a popular tourist destination from around late 1800's and the Hawaiian lei also started becoming popular from that time, with the street vendors selling lei to the tourists.
From the year 1928, May 1st is celebrated as the Lei day in the Hawaiian islands. Hawaiians exchange and gift beautiful lei on this day and they celebrate the day all around the islands including schools.