SALT LAKE CITY, Utah (ABC4) — We’re in the middle of college graduation season, and here in Utah, it’s a place where you’ll see graduates’ cultures and traditions from all walks of life.  

Leis are a popular part of Polynesian culture and are something you’ve probably seen all over, in all colors, sizes, and patterns. 

“It can be a graduation, a birthday, a wedding,” said Lahela, visiting BYU’s graduation ceremony from Mililani, Hawaii. 

“When your kids graduate high school or college we try to get leis [stacked] up to their nose,” said Mary-Lyne Ludloff from Kaneohe, HI. 

You may even see leis made without flowers. 

“There [are] natural as well as flowers,” said Mark Ellis, visiting from Honolulu. “In recent times, we put candy and different treats in the leis.”

BYU Hawaii Anthropology Professor Ulise Funaki said leis have been a big part of graduation culture for years, and they’ve been a part of Polynesian culture for centuries. 

“This is a part of our culture and memorial since the beginning,” said Funaki. “For us, we’ve always had leis, we’ve always had these garlands upon us.” 

Over time, this longtime Polynesian tradition has made its way overseas. 

“Half of our luggage was leis,” said Ludloff. 

Tupouniua Mataele owns The Hawaiian Hut in West Valley City.

“Over here we have to order the leis from Hawaii,” said Mataele. “When it gets here, we have to take it out and we start stringing.” 

Mataele said it can take anywhere from 5 minutes to make a basic lei, to an hour and a half for the more complex ones.

“The leis represent love,” said Ellis.

“A lei is given to show love, that’s the keyword right there,” Mataele said. “Also, to show appreciation.”

Funaki said It’s a symbol from years past that continues to bring cultures together.

“Anybody is open and free to celebrate using a lei, whether you’re Polynesian or not,” said Funaki.