Celebrating Memorial Day at the 2018 Lantern Floating Hawaii Ceremony

This post is for anyone wondering how to celebrate Memorial Day in Honolulu, Hawaii. Attending the Lantern Floating Hawaii ceremony is a great free family-friendly Memorial Day activity. I’ll cover the history of lantern floating in Hawaii, what to expect at the Lantern Floating Hawaii ceremony, and a helpful survival guide for families visiting Hawaii’s annual Lantern Festival.

Memorial Day is coming up and if you’ll be in Honolulu, the perfect way to celebrate is by attending the 2018 Lantern Floating Hawaii ceremony!

It’s the island’s largest Memorial Day observance in the United States, and this yearly FREE public event takes place at Ala Moana Beach Park.

So mark your calendars for the 2018 Hawaii Floating Lantern Festival, which happens this year on May 28, 2018.

History of Lantern Floating in Hawaii

Officiated by Shinnyo-en — an international Buddhist community with Japanese roots — and presented by its locally based social-contributing arm, Nā Lei Aloha Foundation, the ceremony will to set afloat 7,000 candle-lit lanterns bearing remembrances and prayers while illuminating the shores of Honolulu’s Ala Moana Beach at sunset.

The first Lantern Floating Hawaii ceremony was held in 1999 at Ke‘ehi Lagoon on Memorial Day and has grown in response to community interest. Shinnyo-en, meaning “borderless garden of the unchanging and real nature of things,” is an international Buddhist community with temples and centers throughout the United States and the world. The Shinnyo Center for Meditation and Well-Being is located in New York City.

lantern floating hawaii
Photo credit: Lantern Floating Hawaii

It’s a beautiful Hawaiian memorial celebrating and remembering the people that died while serving the USA. This annual Hawaiian celebration is a popular island-wide and international tradition, bringing together an estimated 50,000 people on the beach with thousands more watching via live-stream.

Themed “Many Rivers, One Ocean – Resonance,” the annual Lantern Floating Hawaii ceremony provides an opportunity for anyone from around the globe to focus their attention on creating a moment of collective remembrance, harmony, and international friendship.

Every Memorial Day, participants come from around the world to honor fallen service members and all who laid a foundation for their lives. Many come to witness the peaceful beauty of thousands of lanterns on the Pacific Ocean. The Hawaiian lights festival provides a personal and collective experience where families, friends and even strangers reach out to support one another.

What to Expect at the Lantern Floating Ceremony

The lantern floating ceremony is observed from dusk to sunset on Memorial Day. The ceremony starts with the sounding of the conch shell, first to the North, then to the East, the South, and finally the West.

Photo Credit: Lantern Floating Hawaii

The Lantern Floating ceremony in Honolulu includes diverse cultural and spiritual rituals, as well as artistic expressions like traditional Japanese Taiko drums, hula dancing, and Buddhist sutras set in a Western classical musical style. Leading up to the release of lanterns, the head priest of Shinnyo-en, Her Holiness Shinso Ito, will share a message to inspire hope and peace. Four community leaders will join Shinso Ito for the lighting of the Light of Harmony.

Lantern Floating Hawaii is the culmination of a year of planning, supported by the help of hundreds of volunteers. People who cannot attend have the opportunity to have remembrances included on lanterns through an online submission.

Volunteers hand-transcribe and affix these online submissions to collective remembrance lanterns and float them on behalf of the thousands from around the world who participate in this way. For those wishing to personally float a lantern, individual lanterns are available on site — at no charge — on the ceremony day. At the end of the ceremony, volunteers retrieve all lanterns from the ocean and restore them for next year.

Survival Guide for Families Visiting Hawaii Lantern Floating Ceremony

Read our survival guide below or for more information on the event, visit the ceremony’s official website.

1. Go Early to Personalize Your Lantern

Since we live very close to Ala Moana Beach Park, we’re able to walk over and pick up our lantern (they limit it to one per family) at the Lantern Request Tent (see map) on the event day at 10:00AM.

The tent is open from 10am-4pm or until the lanterns run out, whichever comes first. Lanterns are given out on a first-come, first-serve basis. Everything is very organized at the tents and you can assemble and decorate your lantern at the park.

So go early, bring items to decorate your lantern, and relax at the beach. Last year, we spent time at home personalizing our lantern with photos and colored paper, and returned to the park just before the pre-ceremony began at 6:00PM.

2. Catch The Bus

We recommend parking at Honolulu Convention Center (in Waikiki) to attend the event – they offer free parking from 7:00am-11:59pm on the day of the lantern floating ceremony.

There’s also a complimentary shuttle and Handi Van service for persons with disabilities. You could UBER/Lyft it if you live close enough or better yet use the bus from Waikiki. Note that no taxis will be allowed in the park.

3. Plan to Make a Day Out of It

Last year we arrived at the park around 3:00PM after having lunch at Ala Moana Center’s food court. We highly recommend picking up water and snacks for the kids.

Getting there early means you and the kids can spend the entire afternoon swimming and “people watching” after finding a nice spot in front of a giant screen (which they have all over the park). The quality of the sound and picture was great. Although crowded, everyone makes room for you to sit down and enjoy the hour long show which includes the history of the Lantern Floating ceremony.

TIP —> Keep your children close as it does get very crowded. Also, this is not a good event to bring pets as they could be trampled.

4. Be Prepared to Get Wet

Once it was announced that we could release our lanterns, everyone just turned around and faced the ocean. Every person who has a lantern will have the opportunity to float it as others move aside after floating theirs into the ocean.

As we got closer to releasing the lantern, (be prepared to get thigh-high/waist-high wet) we just thought about our loved ones, and how much we missed them.

TIP —> Remove your valuables from your pockets before entering the water!

5. Keeping Our Oceans Safe

Lanterns are retrieved from the ocean by volunteers after the ceremony. The lanterns are then cleaned and refurbished for use the following year. With that in mind, write your remembrances only on the paper top and not the foam base of the lantern, and be careful not to puncture the lantern base.

The Lantern Floating Hawaii festival is truly touching and a memorable experience for all who participate. Something you don’t want to miss when visiting our beautiful island, this is a must-attend for visitors and locals alike!


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Recommended Reading for Planning Your Trip to Hawaii

If you’re looking for family-friendly things to do on our islands, look no further! We’re a local Hawaiian family that spends six months of the year on Oahu and the rest, traveling the world, culinary worldschooling our children along the way. Here are some posts to help you plan your journey to our islands. Don’t forget to also check out our Hawaii archives page for more.

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