Volunteers Bring the Spirit of ʻOhana to Lantern Floating Hawaii, and Beyond

May 29, 2017
Honolulu, HI

For many, the personal and collective act of floating a lantern, and watching the soft, flickering lights drift along on the surface of the ocean, is a calming, spiritual and emotional one. At the Lantern Floating Hawaii ceremony that took place on the American national holiday of Memorial Day on May 29, 2017, tens of thousands of people joined together at Ala Moana Beach Park and floated more than 7,000 lanterns.

Memorial Day in the United States honors the men and women who died while serving in the U.S. military. At Lantern Floating Hawaii, families honor our veterans and fallen soldiers, as well as all deceased loved ones. The act of floating a lantern gives participants a chance to experience a moment of remembrance, reflection and connection.

The Lantern Floating Ceremony also evokes the spirit of ʻohana the Hawaiian word for family. This is especially true for the nearly 1,000 volunteers who are involved in every aspect of the lantern floating experience. These volunteers are the heart of Lantern Floating Hawaii and make it possible for so many around the world to honor and remember those who have fallen. And the volunteers are not just related to Shinnyo-en and Nā Lei Aloha Foundation, but most are drawn to participate through their own personal connection to the ceremony.

Volunteers take on a very significant role in Lantern Floating Hawaii because doing good for others – and the experience of cultivating a heart to offer oneself to public service – is a core Shinnyo value. There are volunteers who take a few hours to clean up the beach area before or after the event. Some are involved in distributing lanterns or guiding participants as they write their remembrances and assemble their lanterns. Many volunteers return year after year to help prepare the lanterns or even help to clean and restore them in the weeks following the event. And many contribute their time because they are members of military families – an important part of the Hawai’i community, many of whom have shouldered much loss.

“We have a very special place in our hearts for military veterans and their families,” said Charlene Flanter, Program Officer and Communications Manager at Nā Lei Aloha Foundation, a nonprofit affiliated with Shinnyo-en. “We often forget that our military’s primary mission is peace-building, and every year our hope is that the lantern floating event brings attention to and honors those who have sacrificed their lives to promote peace in our world.”

The spirit of ʻohana is also evident among the visitors who come to Ala Moana Beach every year. Families from Hawai’i and beyond gather at the same spot every year on beach. These families may see each other only once a year, but they have formed enduring bonds of friendship that extend beyond Lantern Floating Hawaii.

As Her Holiness Shinso Ito said in her remarks this year, “The lanterns symbolize the presence of friends and families that touched and shaped our lives, helping to make us who we are today. As we remember them, let us also extend our memories to the people who support us in our everyday lives. We can even extend our gratitude to embrace all that sustains us, from the food we eat, to the air we breathe, to every blessing that fits together, linked in harmony.” Indeed, Lantern Floating Hawaii is a unique event that brings together people from all faith traditions, nationalities and regions of the world, to remember their loved ones and embrace the true spirit of ʻohana.

You can watch the 2017 Lantern Floating Hawaii ceremony here.