Yesterday was our last Memorial Day in Hawaii. I had big plans. Like most things that happen to fall when you are in the process of a move, big ideas don’t usually come to fruition. It wasn’t what I planned, but it was perfect for our little family, even with our usual hiccups.
First, let me give you (and my children who read this) a bit of a history lesson. Memorial Day began after the Civil War as Decoration Day. So many souls were lost during the Civil War, every town in every county in every state felt the burden of fallen sons. I think the estimate is somewhere near 620,000 men that died during just that war. To put it into perspective that would be about 2% of the population of the United States. By the late 1860s most communities had some sort of planned holiday to recognize the fallen soldiers of our country. Memorial Day didn’t become an official federal holiday until 1971.
I don’t remember many Memorial Days as a child. I was pretty sheltered living in a small town in Kentucky. I’ve been introduced to a few more Memorial Celebrations since being married to Ray and therefore the navy. I’ve been to parades. We’ve stood for ceremonies. We’ve also been at every sort of party you can imagine. Our tradition in Virginia was to spend a weekend at a beloved camp and end up on the beach if we could by Monday so we could get the kids into bed for school on Tuesday morning. I guess my point is, I don’t spend every moment of Memorial Day only thinking about the men who died for our freedom but…Look kids! Mom is writing about it. It’s important to me that you at least think about it, pray about it and pray for the gold star families that are left behind.
Since we’ve been in Hawaii, I’ve been able to witness and participate in another great tradition, the Hawaii Lantern Festival. It’s held on the evening of Memorial Day. Here is the history of the Lantern Festival directly quoted from the Lantern Festival website.
Memorial Day in America is a day when people remember and honor those who have fallen in service to their country. In Hawai‘i, with its diverse population, traditions become easily adopted and assimilated into its rich cultural fabric. It is the norm for people in Hawai‘i, on Memorial Day, to place flowers and offerings on gravesites of loved ones who served their country as well as those of others who have passed away.
With the wish of creating cultural harmony and understanding, Her Holiness Shinso Ito, Head Priest of Shinnyo-en, officiated the inaugural Lantern Floating Hawaii ceremony on Memorial Day, 1999. For the first three years, the event was held at Ke’ehi Lagoon on the south shore of O’ahu. In 2002, the ceremony was moved a few miles down the coast to Ala Moana Beach where it has been observed every year since.
Unfortunately this year we lost many people in our family, Ray’s grandmother, Louise; his uncle, Roger, my stepfather, Ned AKA Grandpa and Nedbone. When Tye passed, it was the first time we attended a lantern ceremony. I sat on the sand and one of the people that asked to speak talked about losing her son and her husband within a year and how cathartic floating a lantern was for her. I thought of my Mammaw at the time. She buried a son and two husbands. Little did I know that my own mother would suffer the same fate. And so, we returned to place another lantern all too soon.
We listed names of people in our family. I plucked some plumeria off the tree in our front yard. We did the best we could without much to decorate the lantern here. I’m sad I didn’t think to make a silhouette for this one like I made for Tye’s before my machine was gone. We were on the far end of the beach this time and got to watch the pre-made lanterns go out.
As the sun set, and the drums beat someone came by to light our lantern.
And then I got to walk out again and release it with a prayer for our family, gone but never forgotten.
It is a beautiful ceremony and frankly indescribable to witness.
It literally takes your breath away to see them all quietly floating.
I love that we have been able to find our aloha and celebrate the rich culture around us. I also love that we got a moment to send a little aloha up to heaven. I’m also surprised Tye didn’t find a way to push me in.