HONOLULU – (HawaiiNewsNow) Tens of thousands of people packed Ala Moana Beach Monday night for the 13th annual Shinnyo-en lantern floating ceremony.
It was both spectacle and spiritual.
Some came to watch the illuminated lanterns float away from the beach, by most accounts an awe inspiring sight.
Others came to connect with dear departed loved ones.
Three thousand lanterns were available on a first come first served basis. People wrote messages to ancestors, lost family and friends, victims of tragedy and casualties of war.
"Tonight I'm remembering three of my grandparents who have passed. I just think this is a really lovely way to appreciate them," said Melanie Shurety, a visitor from Australia who read about the lantern floating ceremony in a tourist publication.
"This last year I just lost a father figure to me to brain cancer. And then the year before we actually lost … a very good friend to a drunk driving accident. And then my father passed away when I was 13. I figure what better way to honor them," said Chase Simmons of Waikiki as he decorated his lantern with pictures of the people he was remembering.
"These are dearly departed family members and those who have given their lives in service to our country," added Kaimuki resident Desiree Fleming as she show our camera the message and names on her lantern.
The ceremony began at 6:30 pm and was broadcast live on KGMB television. The first lanterns hit the water as the sun went down at about 7:25 pm.
"The candle, the light is a light in your heart. What you feel for your ancestors, for your loved ones. The warmth. That embracing feeling. In Hawaii we call it aloha. And so the symbol of lantern floating is to not only welcome the ancestors but also to guide them," said Roy Ho, who helped organize the event.
The ceremony was staged by the Japanese Buddhist sect Shinnyo-en, but it was not just for church members. Everyone was welcome.
"The word itself, Shinnyo-en, shinnyo means truth. Shinnyo-en means a garden of truth without any walls. And so therefore (we are) welcoming everyone," Ho explained.
The Shinnyo-en web site says, "The ceremony remembers those who gave their lives in conflict, allows for reflection on the memories of loved ones and dedicates prayers for a peaceful and harmonious future. Just as the waters of the Pacific merge with each ocean, the wish for peace and happiness extends from Hawaii across the globe.
Lantern floating is an Asian spiritual tradition that beautifully symbolizes the wish for all beings to live in peaceful coexistence. As the lanterns are released onto the ocean they take with them our healing prayers for victims of conflict, famine, disaster and disease as well as our hopes for the happiness of all: past, present and future."