Fragrant floral floats and hula take center stage, Sept. 26

HONOLULU - Military families heading to the state's premier cultural showcase, the Aloha Festivals Floral Parade, here, this weekend, are sure to witness two features that contribute to Hawaii's uniqueness - colorful flowers and lovely hula hands.

Slated for a 9 a.m. start on Sept. 26, the parade marks the culmination of a monthlong series of events created to foster the Aloha Spirit through a celebration of Hawaii's many traditions.

This year's theme, "Hula - Let the Story be Told," calls for 13 floats and four hula halau (schools) from around the state to converge on the streets of Honolulu. There, dancers will entertain thousands of spectators lined up along Kalakaua Avenue and Ala Moana Beach Park, through song and dance detailing ancient legends, genealogies, epic battles and love stories.

Joining the many halau for the 63rd annual event will be a procession of pa'u (women's skirt) horseback riders and high school marching bands. Spectators will both see and smell the long, fragrant floats, all of which will be decorated with cascading Hawaiian floral arrangements.

"It's going to be as big as it's ever been," event co-chair Jay Talwar promised of the parade. "This year, we've gotten incredible communitywide involvement, more so than we've ever had in the past. Much of that is due to us really connecting with the hula community in the last couple of years and doing as much outreach with them as we possibly could."

For many service members and their families, the occasion may be their first experience at witnessing much of the islands' uniqueness in one setting.

"The parade is a way for (military families) to see Hawaii in a very relaxed way," Talwar said. "Many of our pa'u riders come from outer islands, so it's a side of the community that (first-time spectators) may not always see in their day-to-day lives."

Aside from enjoying the parade, military families may also purchase an Aloha Festivals ribbon at the event for $5. Ribbon wearers are entitled to discounts at many of Oahu's restaurants, hotels and popular family attractions, including Bishop Museum, The Contemporary Museum and Sea Life Park. While most of the discounts are only good through the end of the month, some offers do extend through the end of the year, Talwar noted.

According to Talwar, proceeds from ribbon sales help pay for a significant portion of the festival expenses.

With participation greater than ever before, Talwar is expecting a truly memorable sight at this year's parade.

"I think it's going to show that the Aloha Spirit really resonates with people now," he said.

Created in 1946 as Aloha Week, the event is the oldest and largest Hawaiian cultural statewide celebration in the U.S., according to the festivals' Web site. Today, an estimated 1 million people attend the annual showcase.