Of our shared milestones, only the most consequential are marked by ceremony. Marriage has become the dictionary example of how we solemnize and bestow blessing upon our cherished rites of passage, with all others—birth, death, coming of age—stemming from it, generally speaking. The way we officiate—and celebrate—marriage incorporates all manner of tradition, from as broad a spectrum of time and culture as the union itself has been recognized.
Here in Hawaii, our “rainbow state” status is twofold—cultural diversity paired with the atmospheric phenomena of the marriage between sunshine and rain. Ritual, by its very nature, is most deeply rooted in our heritages, and Hawaii’s spectrum of ethnicities afford no shortage of variety.
What constitutes “local” today is a poi dog hybridization of aboriginal upstarts, plantation-era factions and continued internationalization. Beyond even our epic baby luaus and high school graduation chaos, weddings are prime examples of how we honor our roots while branding something uniquely our own.
Case in point: Wailuku company Wishes and Dreams, which crafts elaborate framed works—usually in the shape of a family mon (crest)—comprised of 1,001 origami paper cranes. Three retired school teachers, Carolyn Hashiro, Christine Hondo and Diane Orikasa, do this delicate work, the business gaining its start in the mid ‘80s when Hashiro’s then soon-to-be-married niece picked up on the trend from Oahu.
Japanese origami lore holds that folding 1,000 cranes will bring good fortune, grant wishes or cure sickness, and is a popular gift not only at weddings but for all sorts of well-wishing. So ask someone from Japan about this ornate, HI-style brand of senbazuru and they’ll likely be a little confused, says Hashiro. Cranes in Japan are merely strung in long, simple strands, whereas Hawaii’s take on this tradition not only includes creating a keepsake that can be displayed at the wedding and handed down for generations, but adding an extra crane for good luck.
Usually the bride folds all 1,000, with the groom pouring all his attentions into making that extra one extra-lucky. Some couples choose to have their loved ones participate as a way to add sentiment, but the option always remains to purchase pre-made cranes if your schedule (or dexterity) is limited.
At least eight weeks lead-time is needed, says Hashiro, and couples should book an appointment to come in and plan their design and color scheme. Typically the cranes are all made of gold paper, but silver has become popular as people try to match their household décor. By no means reserved only for those of Japanese descent, for those who don’t have or don’t know their mon it’s become popular to pick a character or image symbolic to the couple, such as a pair of ulua for fishing enthusiasts. Hashiro says they’ve made things like cupids and even a gecko.
In Chinese tradition, encouraging luckiness for the couple might be less tangible, but is no less tedious. For the traditionally untethered, the big day is mostly relegated to weekends and picked based on the logistics of getting time off from work and coordinating travel with important out-of-state guests. Chinese custom, however, encourages selecting the most auspicious day through careful examination of the couple’s celestial birth signs. Not just the day is important but also the hour—or, to be precise, half-hour. Being married on or after the half-hour is said to represent prosperity if the hour is on the upswing.
Also in Chinese tradition, “lucky money” is given to the couple in red envelopes (think New Year’s and lion dances, firecrackers and all). But at what kind of wedding is money not customary (or lucky, for that matter)? For the Portuguese and Filipino, Catholic observances—such as the binding of hands—are often upheld. But one Catalan custom sometimes maintained in the 808 includes passing a shoe around to collect cash for the bride.
As for the Filipinos, they do it right by dancing for money. In the book Family Traditions in Hawaii, author Joan Namkoong explains this tradition is based on “bitor, the showering of the wedding couple with money [which] was a custom of the past that measured the prestige of a family in the community.” Namkoong also writes that a “further variation that is prominent today in Hawaii is the placing of money into the mouth of the bride while the c0uple dances.” Indeed, set to the rhythm of lively Filipino love songs, the transferrence of money to the couple by pinning bills to their garb or passing money mouth-to-mouth is commonplace (germaphobes turn away).
Speaking of mouths, it wouldn’t be a poi dog wedding without local food. “It’s the wedding feast in Hawaii that’s so telling about ethnic diversity,” writes Namkoong. “Where else in the world could you find a single buffet table laden with sushi, chow mein, roast pig, lumpia, kim chee, roast beef, ham, rice and potato-macaroni salad?”
Just as that list of foods could go on and on, so could a list of wedding traditions. (We haven’t even touched on Native Hawaiian customs, including the ubiquitous wearing of maile leis.) But whatever traditions we choose to perpetuate, resurrect or create, our varied cultural heritage is—and should remain—a source of inspiration.