lantern floating hawaii

A volunteer lifeguard paddles his way through a sea of memorial lanterns at Magic Island, Honolulu. 
Photo: Tracy Chan/HAWAII Magazine

Moving scenes from the 2017 Lantern Floating Hawaii

The beautiful Hawaii Memorial Day tradition, hosted by Shinnyo-en, brought out huge crowds to remember their lost loved ones.

Each year on Memorial Day, an estimated 45,000 to 50,000 people from all over the globe gather on the shores of Honolulu's Ala Moana Beach Park and Magic Island to take part in a breathtakingly beautiful memorial ceremony hosted by Shinnyo-en, an international Buddhist community.

This year, over 7,000 lanterns, inscribed with notes to lost family and friends, were released with hopes, prayers and love into the gentle waters of the bay at sunset. It's an emotional ceremony, with lots of tears, that brings out the best in strangers who comfort each other, and families who gather in honor of their loved ones to eat, tell stories and remember. Here are a few moments from this year's Lantern Floating Hawaii. 

At the start of the ceremony, people gathered along the shore in unity. 

lantern floating hawaii
Photo: Tracy Chan/HAWAII Magazine

 

Many are families who make it an annual tradition.
 

lantern floating hawaii
Photo: Tracy Chan/HAWAII Magazine

 

The participating attendees inscribe a personal message on each lantern. 

lantern floating hawaii
Photo: Trenton Kakazu

 

Up on stage, the taiko drummers open the ceremonies, offering up their rhythms as a prayer for peace. 

lantern floating hawaii
Photo: Trenton Kakazu

It's not uncommon for each drummer to dedicate their performance to a loved one. 

 

Attendees include those of every race and creed, from all over the world. 

lantern floating hawaii
Photo: Tracy Chan/HAWAII Magazine

 

The Aikau family, of whom esteemed Hawaii waterman Eddie Aikau (where the phrase "Eddie would go" came from) is perhaps the most famous member, waits to float their lanterns.

lantern floating hawaii
Photo: Tracy Chan/HAWAII Magazine

"A lot of the volunteers in the water today, the lifeguards and paddlers, are our family," says Aunty Myra Aikau (second from right). 

Others on shore are quiet, caught up in their own memories. 

lantern floating hawaii
Photo: Tracy Chan/HAWAII Magazine

 

A fiery sunset lights up the sky.  
 

lantern floating hawaii
Photo: Tracy Chan/HAWAII Magazine

 

Her Holiness Shinso Ito rings the bell and the crystal-clear sound lets everyone know that it's time to float their lanterns. 

lantern floating hawaii
Photo: Tracy Chan/HAWAII Magazine

 

People start heading into the water. 

lantern floating hawaii
Photo: Tracy Chan/HAWAII Magazine

And it's time to let the lanterns go. 

The first lanterns drift away from shore. 

lantern floating hawaii
Photo: Tracy Chan/HAWAII Magazine

 

Tracey Vest and her little girl are here to float a lantern in honor of her grandfather.

lantern floating hawaii
Photo: Trenton Kakazu

"In 2013, my husband's father passed away suddenly while my husband was deployed in Afghanistan," she says. "My grandfather was a World War II veteran and helped raised me. Being both a military member and spouse, the loss of a loved one in any respect can take a toll on your life. With each passing day, we miss our loved ones, but continue to move forward, knowing they help paved the way to a better future."

Tracey's lantern. One side is devoted to her father, one to her grandfather and one to the "unknown soldier." 

lantern floating hawaii
Photo: Trenton Kakazu

 

A total of 7,000 lanterns float away from the shore.

lantern floating hawaii
Photo: Tracy Chan/HAWAII Magazine

This lantern reads: "Family promise wants to remember Shanda, a wonderful mother who passed away recently. May her love and kindness always be remembered. Rest in peace."

Out in the water, volunteers gently and respectfully help the lanterns on their way. 

lantern floating hawaii
Photo: Tracy Chan/HAWAII Magazine

 

"That's my sister," says one little girl, pushing two lanterns out in water almost over her head. 

lantern floating hawaii
Photo: Tracy Chan/HAWAII Magazine

As the sky darkens, lanterns light up the bay. 

lantern floating hawaii
Photo: Tracy Chan/HAWAII Magazine

Each lantern is made earlier in the spring by Shinnyo practitioners, individual volunteers and groups from schools, businesses and organizations. After every ceremony, all the lanterns are respectfully collected, cleaned and repurposed for the following year. The ceremony is not for profit, and lanterns or souvenirs are not available for purchase. 


For more information about Shinnyo-en and the lantern floating ceremony, visit lanternfloatinghawaii.com.