The Lantern Floating Festival in Hawaii is associated with the celebration of the Memorial Day. Every year on the last Monday in May, the Memorial Day is observed throughout the United States of America. The day is marked for remembering the persons who gave away their lives while serving the country’s armed forces. On that day, many people irrespective of their age, social status and religious boundaries visit the cemeteries and the memorials, to honor those who have lost their lives in the military service of the country and place flowers on the grave in their loving memory.
Hawaii is the only US state located in Oceania and composed entirely of islands. It has a mixed population with assimilated culture and tradition. The people of Hawaii celebrate the Memorial Day in a slightly different manner. On that day they visit the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific to pay respects to the fallen servicemen and women buried in the Hill of Sacrifice. It starts with the participation of both the Girl and the Boy Scout troops of Oahu, when they lay 38,000 fresh flowers on the graves, donated by the community and local schools, while the Royal Hawaiian Band pay their tribute by performing one hour from 8 o’clock in the morning at the cemetery.
In the evening, after a beautiful ceremony of remembrance, the unique Lantern Floating Festival is held at the Ala Moana Beach, which has now become an Oahu tradition. The ceremony respectfully celebrates honor and reverence for the friends and family who has since passed away and specifically serves to pay homage to those veterans who selflessly gave of their lives for the safety and freedom of the country. Opened with the sacred sound of the iconic conch, known as Hawaiian seashell trumpet and followed by Japanese drum or ‘Taiko’, the ceremony involves a chant, which calls in six large Parent Lanterns offering prayers and gratitude.
After the end of the ceremony, it becomes a spectacular sight, when in the presence of about 50.000 people approximately 6,000 lighted candles float and drift slowly through the dark sea, decorated with the reflection of the twinkling stars of the heaven above. As these floating symbols of hope light up the bay, they remind the participants and the visitors of the loving memory of the departed souls, whom they miss. These specially crafted floating lanterns are inscribed by hand with prayers and personal messages upon special paper that is affixed to each. The lanterns are launched lovingly into the water as a touching show of symbolism. It symbolizes a tribute to all the departed souls who passed away and wish them eternal peace. At the same time it represents a combined prayer for love, peace and harmony in the world.
History says that, Her Holiness Shinso Ito, Head Priest of Shinnyo-en, inaugurated the first Lantern Floating ceremony on the Memorial Day of 1999, with the object of creating cultural harmony and understanding among the people. For the first three years, the event was held at Ke'ehi Lagoon on the south shore of O'ahu, and in the year 2002, the ceremony was moved a few miles down the coast to Ala Moana Beach where it has been observed every year since then. The beach is wide enough to accommodate the huge gathering and everyone patiently waits for his or her turn to send off their remembrance lantern to the wide open sea. The Lantern Floating festival is actually not an ordinary festival, it is rather a festival of mass prayer, a prayer for the betterment of the world, a world with peace and harmony.
Today, the Lantern Floating Festival in Hawaii has become an international event, when people from all over the globe gather together on the shores of Honolulu's Ala Moana Beach Park and Magic Island to take part in the breathtakingly beautiful memorial event hosted by Shinnyo-en, an international Buddhist community.