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Three Steps to a Hawai‘i-Themed Wedding

Updated on February 25, 2013
Keep it elegant to ensure your wedding is beautiful and not “touristy.”
Keep it elegant to ensure your wedding is beautiful and not “touristy.” | Source

Whether you are doing a destination wedding or just want to focus your wedding décor around Hawai‘i’s plants and iconography, you should know that planning a Hawai‘i-themed wedding can take a bit more time. While the décor isn’t always as elaborate at it is in glitzy Western weddings—generally a simple, matte wedding tablecloth will suffice—if you want to go all-out with the festivities, in many cases you’ll need to custom-order items like food and flowers. These don’t necessarily need to come from Hawai‘i-based businesses, but if you are ordering tropical plants or food, you’ll often need to place your order well in advance to ensure freshness and timeliness.

While you can probably get away with using the usual wedding timeline in planning your Hawai’i-themed wedding, I recommend that you consider and decide on the following items earlier rather than later.

The Food

There are essentially three types of food that people categorize as Hawaiian—traditional, fusion, and “for marketing purposes only.” Traditional foods include items like kalua pork and poi, fusion would be lomilomi salmon and mochiko chicken, and “for marketing purposes only” would be “Hawaiian pizza.” You’ll probably want to stay away from the “marketing” foods (because who wants to see “Hawaiian pizza” on a crisp white wedding tablecloth?), but the other types can easily be dressed up for a wedding. You simply need to find the right catering company to do so.

If you are doing a location wedding or already live in Hawai‘i (in which case you probably don’t need to read this article), finding a Hawaiian food caterer won’t be a problem. If not, you may run into a few obstacles. You can easily find recipes for Hawaiian food online, but unless you plan on making all the food yourself, this probably isn’t your best option. You can sometimes find Hawaiian restaurants in urban areas, of course, and if you have adequate connections in the restaurant industry, you may be able to find a chef who is willing to learn (if you are willing to pay).

Another option is to research which cultures have most impacted modern Hawaiian cuisine. As an example, in many cases, East Asian preparation styles like kalbi and teriyaki are celebrated in Hawaiian cuisine, so if you can find a Korean or Japanese restaurant that is willing to cater your wedding, these plates will hardly look out of place on your tablecloths.

Finally, if you want it to be traditional, a number of Hawaiian catering companies offer shipping. The only drawback is that they are expensive (though nobody expects a wedding to be cheap) and often need a bit of time to prepare your order and to ship it. The food will also be frozen upon arrival, so you will still need to work with a catering company to ensure that each plate is attractive. Weddings in Hawai‘i are often buffets, though, so you can up your levels of authenticity by making this an option. It won’t be as pretty as a painstakingly organized round plate set upon an elegant tablecloth, but it will be no less delicious.

The Décor

Again, Hawaiian wedding décor is quite simple. The most common color combination you’ll see is green and white, with the occasional pop of color thrown in. Red and yellow are the royal colors in Hawaiian tradition, so they are quite common sights as well.

I’d recommend selecting and renting easier items, like tablecloths for weddings, a few months in advance. To go along with the above-mentioned color scheme, your order will likely consist of, again, basic white tablecloth rentals with any level of sheen. But you don’t need to go plain. Personally, I like the idea of layering three square tablecloths, with green and yellow below and a white wedding tablecloth as the top layer.

Another option is to add a bit of texture—maybe a lacy, wedding-appropriate base layer beneath a white tablecloth. I’m also fond of using table runners in red or green—they look particularly effective on a long, rectangular tablecloth.

As for the flowers, I recommend that you speak to a few florists in your area to find out what they can acquire for you. Since they are used to importing tulips from the Netherlands and palms from Latin America, most flower shops are more than capable of finding and ordering flowers from Hawaii.

However, for the sake of authenticity, you should probably look into ordering lei as well. Maile leis are incredibly popular at Hawaiian weddings, and while it is pricy, it is well-worth the expense. It smells like a combination of flowers and vanilla frosting and its glossy, dark-green leaves are gorgeous. They are often paired with flowers like ‘ilima or jasmine. If you wish to order haku leis, or headdresses, for the bride and bridesmaids, as a gorgeous alternative to, or augmentation of, the veil. In general, these items are sent through overnight shipping, but you should get your order in as early as possible to allow the artisans ample notice to collect supplies and assemble them in an attractive manner.

My other recommendations for décor—‘ipu, or gourds, wooden bowls, kukui nuts, bamboo accessories, coconut crafts—are far less perishable. As with all online orders, you’ll want to order them at least a month in advance or request faster shipping options. Place them in the center of the previously-discussed wedding tablecloths and add flowers and greenery as desired.

The Entertainment

You’d be surprised at how widespread Hawaiian culture is. You’ll find hula performed everywhere from Japan to Poland, so finding performers in the U.S. isn’t as difficult as you’d expect. Granted, this will be much easier if you live in an urban area, but if you have the budget, you might consider paying for a certain halau, or dance group, to travel to your particular venue. Note that traditionally, all performers are invited to partake in the cuisine either before or after their performance. Such etiquette rules don’t always hold up, so be sure to consult with the kumu hula beforehand to determine what is expected. You may even want to set up one or two additional tables for the dancers, marked with a cloth printed with their particular graphic design.

Another popular Hawaiian performance art is slack-key guitar. Popularized by contemporary artists like Jeff Peterson, slack-key guitar is at once calming and distinctive. A number of guitar virtuosos enjoy playing slack-key guitar, though finding one in your area might be difficult. This type of music is sometimes accompanied by vocals, but in many cases the performer can simply sit on stage and play beautiful music. Be sure to decorate the podium with matching wedding tablecloths and whatever additional décor you choose.

You are unlikely to find an entire band that plays Hawaiian music, but it remains popular. You can still look for a disc jockey who is willing to do the research.

If all else fails, you don’t need to feel bad about hiring a conventional band or DJ. Most Hawaiian weddings will feature a range of music. Like most areas, Hawai‘i is home to a culturally diverse population with equally diverse tastes. They are not immune to the charms of songs like “Someone Like You,” or even “Hava Nagila.” Modern culture in Hawai‘i is all about integrating different cultures, so don’t be afraid to put your own twist on the event.


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    • Charlotte Lenard profile image

      Charlotte Lenard 5 years ago from Oak Park, IL

      Thanks! Let me know if you actually try it :)

    • missali profile image

      missali 5 years ago

      What a FUN wedding this would be! Thanks for sharing - great ideas here.