Your Essential Guide to the 2019 Lantern Floating Ceremony
When it comes to the largest Memorial Day observance in the United States, you’re going to want to be prepared.
Photos: David Croxford
Updated: May 23, 2019
The Lantern Floating Ceremony is one of the most anticipated events of the summer—and for good reason. It is a time for people to come together to honor their departed loved ones and support each other on a day of remembrance. Here is our guide to everything you need to know about the annual ceremony.
What it is
Thousands of people gather for Memorial Day at Ala Moana Beach Park to honor those who have passed away by floating specially decorated lanterns. It is the largest Memorial Day observance in the United States. This year’s theme is “Many Rivers, One Ocean—Share Your Light,” with the hope of uniting and harmonizing all participants and observers no matter their background. The event attracts more than 50,000 people from all over the world and plans to float more than 7,000 lanterns.
SEE ALSO: Our 2018 Lantern Floating Ceremony Hawai‘i Photo Gallery
Where and When
The ceremony is on Memorial Day, May 27 at Ala Moana Beach Park. For the first three years, the ceremony was held at Keʻehi Lagoon then moved to its current location in 2002. The tent where you can request and decorate lanterns is open from 10 a.m. until 3 p.m., or until lanterns run out, inside the grassy area of the park. The pre-ceremony begins at 6:10 p.m. at the mainstage on the beach and the ceremony ends at 7:30 p.m.
Where to Park
If you’re like us. the thought of cramming thousands of cars in the Magic Island parking lot is a nightmare. Parking is tight there on a normal day! However, don’t panic because, along with the Ala Moana Beach Park area, you can park at the Hawai‘i Convention Center from 7 a.m. until midnight. From there, you can either stroll to the beach park or take the shuttle that runs from 3 until 5:30 p.m. and from the end of the ceremony until 9 p.m.
Parking with a disability parking permit is in the Magic Island parking lot, but is first-come, first-serve.
How Much it Costs
The Lantern Ceremony is free to participate and observe. Simply go to the request tent and pick up a lantern (one per family) and decorate the special paper provided—all at no cost. The lantern bases are reused every year, so only decorate the paper and be careful not to puncture the foam base. You don’t want your lantern to sink!
Donations will be accepted on the day of the event and will benefit the City and County of Honolulu for the beautification of Ala Moana Beach Park.
What to Eat
The only food and drinks sold at the event are concession stands contracted by the City and County such as the L&L Hawaiian Barbeque. These stands are located on the mauka side of Ala Moana Beach Drive.
All of the public restrooms and showers at Ala Moana Beach Park will be open for the event.
What to Expect
There are 12 aspects to the Lantern Floating Ceremony, each has its own symbolic meaning. Here is what to expect and what each part means. You can watch last year’s ceremony here.
The sounding of the pū, or Hawaiian conch shell: Its sound purifies the area and marks the beginning of the ceremony.
Shinnyo Taiko: The boom of the taiko drums is meant to unify the audience. It is a prayer for peace and encourages people to support one another.
Oli: a Hawaiian chant meant to call attention and prepare the audience for the importance of the event.
Hula: Every year, there is a hula performance to the song "Ka Lei Moana," which means “The Encircling Garland of the Sea.” The song symbolizes the overarching theme of the event, which is “Many Rivers, One Ocean.”
Entrance of Main Lanterns: There are six main lanterns that carry prayers for all spirits, including endangered and extinct animal and plant life.
Light of Harmony: Community leaders from diverse areas light a fire to symbolize their commitment to creating harmony.
Blessing and transformation: Her Holiness Shinso Ito, the head of Shinnyo Buddhism, blesses the event, all those in attendance and all those being remembered.
Offering of food and water: The act of presenting food and water is a symbol of spiritual nourishment to the souls being remembered.
Strewing of flower petals: The flower petals show the love and respect for those being honored.
Shomyo: This is a traditional Buddhist chant that includes a Western choral harmony for the Lantern Floating Ceremony.
Ringing of the Bell: The sound of the bell is meant to focus people’s thoughts and signify that it is time to float the lanterns.
Floating of Lanterns: When the lanterns are placed in the water, they are meant to send wishes of peace and happiness to those who have passed and give courage and hope for those present.
Pick up food and drinks before coming to the ceremony. Although there will be concession stands contracted by the City & County, the Lantern Floating Ceremony website encourages people to bring their own food and non-alcoholic beverages.
Arrive early to avoid waiting in long lines and to secure a nice spot on the beach. The weather forecast for Memorial Day is beautiful. Make a day of it and get some sun at the beach before the ceremony begins.
Lantern floating is not littering. After the ceremony, the lanterns are retrieved from the water, refurbished and reused the next year. So for safety and environmental reasons, do not attach lei, food or any additional materials to your lantern.
You don’t have to be a practicing Buddhist to participate. Although it is a Buddhist ceremony, the ceremony’s goal is to unite people of all backgrounds to provide a positive and healing experience for everyone.
If you can’t be there in person, you can watch it on live on Hawai‘i News Now KGMB and lanternfloatinghawaii.com from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m. or a rebroadcast of the ceremony on the Lantern Floating Hawai‘i website.
Bring your camera. When you see the sunset hues melt into the sea of bright lanterns you will want to capture that moment.