Memorial Day in Honolulu comes with a very special event: the lantern ceremony at Ala Moana beach. Ala Moana is a long stretch of sand that flows into shallow blue waters, rimmed by rocks and reefs that create a surf break further out. On any given day, the beach and park are packed with sunbathers, swimmers, surfers, joggers, yoga classes and BBQ parties. But every Memorial Day, thousands more people gather along the shore at sunset in a more reverent mood to remember loved ones who have passed.
Each lantern has paper walls around a candle on a boat shaped float. Families decorate the paper lantern with messages, drawings, photos and lei to send their love, memories and best wishes to that person in their next chapter. Many take the full day to pick up and prepare the lantern for the evening ceremony. On a nearby stage, a program with traditional performances of Taiko drums, Hawaiian cultural presentations and personal testimonies create a shared feeling of compassion and inspiration. And at exactly the right moment – as the light starts to fade – calm music is played as families on the beach release the lighted lanterns into the water. They float unerringly toward the open ocean to join the hundreds of other lanterns as they fade into points of light in the dark night. Many people and families find real comfort to be in sympathy with thousands of strangers along a vast stretch of sand and to honor their loved ones with a breathtaking celebration.
The lanterns are eventually collected by long, lantern-lit canoes and recycled for future ceremonies. And though we may not have the opportunity to gather in vast numbers this year, we can still visually appreciate former ceremonies with videos like this one from the YouTube channel Just Be Out.