Any Hawaii event that attracts thousands of residents and visitors is certain to garner a great deal of media attention, and the annual Lantern Floating Festival that takes places at Ala Moana Beach Park each year is certainly no exception. It’s one of our most hallowed and honored traditions. It’s a Buddhist tradition, but as with most such things in Hawaii, it is celebrated and venerated by pretty much everyone.

It takes place in honor of Memorial Day, and this year the ceremony happens on Monday, May 25th. The ceremony is meant to honor the spirits of those who have passed and there are many ways to participate. The ceremony itself will attract well over 30,000 participants and spectators.

The ceremony is comprised of several important aspects. Once all of the infrastructure is in place (which takes several days to come together), the sounding of the pu, or conch shell, marks the beginning of the ceremony. This is followed by Japanese taiko drumming, which is meant to symbolize the calling together of people in a prayer for peace. Then a Hawaiian oli, or chant, calls people to attention to prepare their hearts for the importance of the event itself.

After that six ceremonial vessels present lanterns on behalf of all people, offering prayers to victims of disaster, war, famine, and other misfortune around the world. Community leaders from around Hawaii then join together to demonstrate unity and commitment to the common good.

Shinnyo En’s Holiness Shinso Ito then offers a blessing of the ceremonial grounds and attendees, and honors the spirit and memory of all of those being honored with floating lanterns. The Onjiki aspect of the ceremony is intended to nourish the spirit and souls of those being honored. Flowers are then scattered in honor of those for whom attendees have gathered to remember. Buddhist and western choral chant traditions are then welcomed as part of the ceremony.

It’s only then that Her Holiness Shinso Ito rings a bell to signify that it is time to float the lanterns. Thousands of lanterns carrying the remembrances of those who have passed and the hopes of the present and future as set to drift. It’s a stirring vision, somber and circumspect but full of hope, love, and compassion.

If you’re a visitor and staying in Waikiki, it’s best to make the relatively short walk to Ala Moana Beach Park. Parking is hopeless and traffic is, well, a nightmare. Thousands of Hawaii families make the pilgrimage each year, in many cases coming from neighbor islands to participate in the ceremony that honors ancestors and offers hope for the future. It’s a spectacle that is amazing to behold, and full of spiritual import to participate in.

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