During the pandemic lockdown when people are unable to gather and mourn the loss of family and friends, a ritual like Oahu’s annual lantern floating festival seems like an essential service more than ever before. The ritual—in which lanterns carrying prayers, messages, and photos, are floated out on the Pacific Ocean—is performed to honor all those who have died in the previous year.
The Shinnyo-en, a Buddhist order, began the event in 1999, calling it a “ceremony of remembrance for those who came before us.” The annual lantern floating festival regularly draws more than 50,000 people to Ala Moana Beach at sunset on Memorial Day to take part in the live dance and music performances, as well as the release of the lanterns into the ocean. (In normal years, the Buddhist community retrieves the lanterns from the Pacific afterwards, cleans and repairs them, and stores them for use in future festivals.)
As with so many other events, the 2020 Memorial Day ceremony is being moved online this year because of COVID-19 concerns. This year’s ritual will be livestreamed and people from all over the world can submit a remembrance to be included and recognized by the Shinnyo-en Buddhist community. While there will be no gracefully floating lanterns this year, you can still view the 2019 ceremony. (Watch the rituals and music at the beginning and then, if you want to skip ahead to the lantern floating, go to 44:20 on the video.)
To submit an image or remembrance of someone you’ve lost this year, visit lanternfloatinghawaii.com. All submissions must be received before May 23 at noon HST to be part of the Memorial Day ceremony, which takes place at 6:30 p.m. HST on May 25 and can be watched on Facebook, Instagram, and lanternfloatinghawaii.com.