HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - An estimated 50,000 people gathered at Magic Island and Ala Moana Beach Park this Memorial Day for the 20th anniversary of the Shinnyo Lantern Floating Hawaii.
The Lantern Floating ceremony, held every Memorial Day, honors loved ones who have been lost.
Thousands of lanterns ― each bearing personal messages ― illuminate the waters off Ala Moana Beach Park and then are gathered up by volunteers in the water.
Patricia Schwarz flew in from the Big Island to attend the ceremony for the first time.
“I’m here to honor my mom and my oldest sister. I lost the two of them within the last 10 months," she said. “I watch it every year and saw how touching it is and what it means to a lot of people.”
Others came from even farther to be a part of the event. They said it brought a calming sense of love and connection to their late loved ones.
“Peace, knowing that they’re going to be fine. And just wanted them to know that even though they’re not here with us, they’re still in our hearts,” California resident Joan Weber said.
Every year, the ceremony, is free and open to the public.
Iraqi War veteran Mark Sammon paid tribute to his late mother and his friends he lost in combat.
“The USS Stark which was hit by Iraqi missiles years ago. I lost some friends from boot camp there and had to go back on that ship to retrieve them. So this is a closure because it’s been locked up inside me,” Sammon said.
"It gives me an opportunity to let things open up and know that the ones who sacrificed a lot are looking down and hopefully are proud of me and my mom is proud of me.”
Participants prepared their lanterns with personal messages earlier in the day as thousands stood in line for the lantern request tent.
Some families have made it a tradition to come annually. For others, their first time floating a lantern for someone they loved brought back many emotions.
“I just lost my husband last month and it was really traumatic. He passed away because of cancer. He was my support system, he fought really hard,” Cher Ferreira said.
The lanterns used are collected from the water, handled with respect and recycled for the following year.