The world famous lantern floating ceremony is a special day dedicated to honoring loved ones who have passed away and to generate hope toward the future. Held annually on Memorial Day, the ceremony sees tens of thousands of people pack Ala Moana beach to release personally decorated lanterns out into the ocean.
The ceremony was originally started in Japan. It is believed that the tradition will help guide the souls of the departed on to the spirit world. Traditionally, Japanese believe that all people come from water and the lanterns represent the human body returning to water. The ceremony was bought to Hawaii to coincide with the American tradition of remembering and honoring veterans on Memorial Day.
Lighting candles for the departed is a tradition that is practiced by most cultures across different religions. The act of lighting a single candle can be acknowledged as a sacred torch, lighting the way for loved ones to pass between the world of the living and the spirit world. As such, a sacred flame symbolizes light and purity as well as the spirit of the departed and the very essence of life itself.
The Na Lei Aloha Foundation organizes and presents the annual lantern floating event. Na Lei Aloha is the secular, community-supporting arm of the Shinnyo-en Buddhist Order in Hawaii that promotes cross-cultural co-operation, understand and peace. The event grows in size each year as people from all over the world come to Hawaii to share their story of loss, and find solace amongst others who have similar stories to tell.
The ceremony is broadcast live across Hawaii and streamed to viewers across Asia, Europe, North and South America and Australia. It’s live streamed on the internet, with many memorial videos of previous year’s ceremony available on-demand.
The lanterns don’t float too far out to sea. The current steers them down the channel at Ala Moana Beach Park where they are collected by boat and restored, ready for the following year’s ceremony.