Memorial Day is celebrated on beaches in Hawaii but the solemn significance of the occasion is not forgotten. It is observed with a tropical twist.

The commemoration is a federal holiday in the United States, honoring members of the military who died while in the service. Hawaii is home to the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific, also named Punchbowl Cemetery for the nearby crater. Traditionally, local Boy Scouts decorate the graves with floral lei each Memorial Day. This year, there has been a last-minute push to get enough lei donated for all 33,000 plots and another 5,000 at the Hawaii State Veteran’s Cemetery in Kanehoe. The annual lei-making is a community volunteer effort. Some believe the number of lei was reduced this year because children who make many of the lei were dismissed from school before Memorial Day.

Many other smaller commemorations of armed forces are held in communities on all the islands this weekend. Other events honor all who have died, not only those in military service. On Oahu, the 9th Annual Waikiki Beach Boys Memorial Day Paddle Out is held at Queens Beach all day. “Beach boys” paddle out to sea in memory of loved ones who have passed away.

While Memorial Day is not celebrated worldwide, the custom of remembering the dead is international. The two are joined in Hawaii in the annual Lantern Floating Ceremony at Ala Moana Beach Park. Lantern floating is an Asian spiritual tradition symbolizing the wish for all beings to live in peace. At sunset on Memorial Day, over 2,000 candle lanterns are released onto the ocean. Although sponsored by Shinnyo-en, it is open to people of all religions or no religion. Some participate by placing the name of a loved one on a lantern, others just enjoy the tranquil sight of thousands of glowing lanterns floating on the sea.


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