Lanterns on the Sea

Yesterday was Memorial Day, which in Hawaii means it was Lantern Floating. As someone who enjoys observing cultures, I had to see for myself.

My friend and I went down to the beach in the afternoon and enjoyed the sunshine and the breeze in the trees. I entertained myself watching the birds in the trees; it’s springtime here, too, and they’re doing what birds do, flirting and arguing and teaching others how to fly. As the sun set, we wandered down toward the shoreline, where the crowd of people was thickest, but we had the most room to see the water.

Drumming, chanting and hula followed for the next hour, while the sun sank behind the western edge of the island. People clutched paper lanterns on little boats with the names of their loved ones printed carefully on the sides. All at once, the lanterns were lit and boats started spreading across the harbor, setting out little blazing lanterns, and six large ones. The people on the beach walked into the water, some of them very deep, to launch their boats. The lights increased in number quickly until more than two thousand of them flickered on the gentle waves, heading out toward the ocean where a string of buoys waited to catch them.

As it got dark, the water turned inky blue and the lanterns glowed orange and the air got cool. When the last of the lanterns was solidly heading for the end of its journey, we finally left the beach.

Lantern floating is, I gather, a fairly recent tradition here, but it draws a crowd of some 40,000 people. While not something I would likely participate in, it was fascinating and beautiful to watch. The particular blend of cultures in Hawaii was especially apparent, being that the music was by and large Hawaiian, including a chant to Queen Emma and the best hula performance I’ve ever seen, but the lanterns were blessed by a Buddhist priestess. Really an interesting thing to see.

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