HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - In what's become a Memorial Day tradition in the islands, tens of thousands gathered at Ala Moana Beach Park on Monday to release candle-lit lanterns symbolizing the memories of loved ones lost.
The annual Lantern Floating Hawaii ceremony, a somber and emotional event, drew an estimated 50,000 residents and visitors. This year's theme: "Many Rivers, One Ocean – Hope."
The pre-ceremony kicked off at 6:10 p.m., with a taiko drum performance by Shinnyo Taiko.
The official ceremony began at 6:30 p.m. with a Hawaiian oli, hula and music. The free event also included a Hawaiian musical artist, a message of hope, and lighting of the Light of Harmony by six community leaders and a leader of Shinnyo Buddhism.
Participants then set more than 6,000 lit lanterns afloat.
Attendees arrived at Ala Moana Beach hours before the event to grab parking and a space to watch.
Lilibeth Mendoza, of Mililani, was overcome with emotion while writing a message to a loved one lost on her lantern.
"Just before writing stuff down I can't hold the tears back, but now after I write it down I'm OK," she said. "It's very emotional."
Jamie Heilemann called the ceremony "spiritual," and said she was moved to see attendees writing messages for loved ones on lantersn.
She took in the moment with her three children, but also marveled at the scene unfolding around her.
"Pretty humbling, I'd say, to see all the families together," she said.
Across the park, families gathered in typical fashion. They were under canopies with elaborate grills, sat on portable furniture.
Sterling Luna was attending the ceremony with family from all over.
"We have visitors here from Arizona, California, Big Island, Maui, she said.
The ohana originates in Waipahu, and spends their day cherishing family past, while celebrating with family present.
"We have barbecue chicken, hot dogs, hamburgers, we have smoke meat, pork and beans with sausage ... and that's just lunch," she said.
And that's the beauty of the event. While the memories of family and loved ones take center stage at dusk, they're made with them during the day.
"It's just for everybody," said Carol Agbisit, of Waianae. "When you see the lanterns go in, it just touches your heart."