On Friday, December 7th, Tahiti will celebrate its annual “La Journée du Tiare Tahiti.” This day, known as Tahitian Tiare Day, is a special tribute to the country’s own emblematic Tahitian gardenia. It includes a contest in which the locals compete to see who can best showcase the national flower, and it typically causes the streets and public spaces to be covered in festive floral decor—making downtown Papeete a very fragrant place to be on this particular day!
Celebrating 50 Years
This year’s celebration marks the 50th anniversary of the annual Tiare Festival. Established in 1962 by the Solidarity Group of Tahitian Women—a charitable organization committed to providing emergency aid for families, children, women and elderly people in need—the event was originally created as a way to raise money and awareness for their cause. Founding president Andréa de Balmann-Tourneux decided on the theme, “Tahitian Tiare,” because the flower often symbolizes the elegance of the Polynesian vahine (woman).
In partnership with the country’s airline and under the initiative of Alexandre Moeava Ata, Director of Tourisme, the first Tiare Ball was held on December 2, 1962 in the gardens of Papeete, Tahiti. It was a huge success, and with continual support from GIE Tahiti Tourisme, the event evolved over the years into what is now Tiare Day, which is still held every year during the first week of December.
In 1984, a beautification aspect was introduced as a way to encourage local businesses to get involved. Many shops, banks and government offices began competing to see who could best showcase the Tiare flower through their beautiful and elaborate floral decorations. They would cover the outside of their buildings with all types of tropical flowers and the winners were awarded with a trophy at the evening gala.
In keeping with this tradition, many local businesses still decorate the outside of their buildings in honor of Tiare Day. Since 2010, however, the competition has changed into more of a floral design contest. Participants now make head wreaths, flower leis and dresses based on a different theme each year. Last year’s theme was “Tiare and Tropical Fruits,” and the theme for this year’s event is “Tiare and Native Flowers.”
Stop and Smell the Flowers
If you find yourself walking around downtown Papeete this Friday, chances are you’ll be handed a Tiare flower. If you choose to put the flower in your hair, just remember that a flower worn on the left ear means you’re taken, and a flower worn on the right ear means you’re available!
Although this day is meant to honor the Tahitian Tiare, it’s not unusual for this to happen all year round. Visitors are typically offered a welcome Tiare or flower lei upon arrival, and the resorts often go above and beyond by decorating each room with an abundance of flowers.
More About the Tahitian Tiare
The Tiare flower, or Gardenia Tahitensis, is a species of plant from the Rubiaceae family, which includes flowering plants such as jasmine and gardenia. It originated from Melanesia and Western Polynesia, and today it has become a cultural emblem for the islands of Tahiti. This iconic, star-shaped flower is proudly featured in the corporate logos for both Air Tahiti Nui and Tahiti Toursime.
The Tiare flower is most famously known for its use in making Tahitian monoï oil. At a very particular stage in its growth, before the Tiare flower has opened, it is handpicked and immediately soaked in refined coconut oil for a minimum of 15 days. During this natural process known as enfleurage, the flower releases its unique healing properties into the coconut oil. Click here to learn more about monoï.