Held every year on Memorial Day on Oahu’s south shore, the Lantern Floating Festival offers a time for honoring loved ones while also generating a collective hope toward the future. Drawing over 50,000 people to the beach every year, the event is live streamed and telecast to thousands more. Offering a chance to be surrounded by love, understanding and support, the event is meant to give all participants a personal moment to remember and reflect as they offer gratitude to those who have gone before us.
The History of the Lantern Floating Festival Hawaii
The Lantern Floating Festival Hawaii was started as a way to celebrate Memorial Day in a way that adopts and assimilates Hawaiian cultures and customs. Just as traditional Memorial Day observances are meant to give people time to remember and honor those who have fallen in service of their country, the Lantern Floating Festival Hawaii offers a time to reflect and appreciate those who are gone
The first Lantern Floating Hawaii event took place on Memorial Day in 1999, where it was officiated by Her Holiness Shinso Ito, Head Priest of Shinnyo-en. For the first three years, the event was held on the south shore of Oahu at Keehi Lagoon. In 2002, it was moved to its current location just a few miles down the coast to Ala Moana Beach.
Elements of Lantern Floating Hawaii
The Lantern Floating Hawaii festival features a number of symbolic elements that are observed each year. These include:
- Pu – The pu, or Hawaiian conch shell, is sounded off to sanctify the area and mark the start of the ceremony.
- Shinnyo Taiko – The sounding of the taiko, which is offered as a prayer for peace, calls the people together in hopes of reaching out in the spirit of harmony and support.
- Oli – A Hawaiian chant meant to call attention to those who are present as they prepare their hearts to receive what is to come.
- Hula – A visual representation of song (mele) or chant (oli) through dance.
- Main Lanterns – Six large Main Lanterns, which carry prayers for all spirits on the behalf of all people, then enter the ceremony. At this time, prayers are offered for victims of war as well as for victims of water-related accidents, famine, disease, natural disasters and manmade disasters. Gratitude is offered for all, including endemic, endangered and extinct plant and animal life. The lanterns are then floated in hope of encouraging peace and hormony.
- Light of Harmony – Community leaders from various sectors participate in the Light of Harmony as they symbolically demonstrate their commitment to creating harmony amid diversity.
- Blessing and Transformation – Her Holiness Shinso Ito offers a blessing of the lanterns, the ceremonial area, those being remembered and those participating in the event.
- Offering – Food and water are offered to symbolize the offering of spiritual nourishment to the souls of those remembered.
- Flower Petals – Flowers are traditionally placed in the path of honored loved ones. As part of the ceremony, they are scattered on the path to symbolize the love and respect being offered to loved ones.
- Shomyo – A chant that blends the traditional Buddhist chant with Western choral harmony.
- Ringing of the Bell – Her Holiness Shinso Ito’s bell is rang to focus everyone’s thoughts and prayers while also signifying time to float the lanterns.
- Floating of Lanterns – Lanterns are placed in the water with wishes for happiness and peace for those who have past while also unveiling hope and courage within those who are present.