HONOLULU (KHON2) — It’s a scene unlike any other, with thousands of lanterns adrift in the pristine waters of Ala Moana, back in person for the first time since 2019. As spectacular as the Shinnyo Lantern Floating Ceremony is visually, it’s just as powerful emotionally.

It has been a tough four years since Hawaii has hosted this ceremony in person. Monday night, an estimated 50,000 people came to Ala Moana Park to remember their loved ones lost.

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Edwin Cervantes, an Oahu resident honoring his mom, said, “This is what we need. We need the community to come together because that’s what Aloha is, that’s what Hawaii is, and that’s what we do here.”

Cervantes moved to Hawaii after experiencing the lantern floating ceremony on a trip. He lost his mom in October of 2020 and didn’t get to properly say goodbye because of COVID restrictions.

He expressed, “Everyone was also suffering from COVID, so she died experiencing that, and it was hard because we were here on the island and we weren’t able to do anything because there were so many restrictions.”

On this Memorial Day, Marine Will Pena honored his servicemembers lost, including a brother he lost a day after the last ceremony was held in person.

“Lance Corporal Hans Sandoval, lost him in 2019, May 28, it was a training accident in Australia. I am definitely honoring him today as well as a lot of my brothers that have passed,” Pena said, fighting back tears.

And locals like Garrett Murata, who lost his mom to cancer in March, were able to once again say goodbye with an island tradition.

“It means that she will not be forgotten, she will always be remembered, and we’ll share the love that she shared with us with others,” Murata said.

“My mother passed away a few years ago and we’ll memorialize her and you know it’s our veterans too,” said Kailua resident Michael Rasmussen.

Earlier in the day, tents were set up for people to write their own personal messages to loved ones.

“I know that Grandpa Danny was a chef in World War II and he was in the Navy also. And, so, Grandpa Danny he was a loving father also,” said Maui resident Jeb Rulloda.

The Shinnyo Lantern Floating ceremony draws people from both near and far and for some, it’s a new experience they have been looking forward to.

“It’s our first time at the event and one of the volunteers told us that letting go of the lantern will be the most memorable thing,” said Rulloda.

Visitors flew in from across the world, like May Andrais from Alberta, Canada, whose mother and father-in-law were frequent visitors here in the islands.

“It would be something so fitting for them, a place that they both loved so much, and we can send them off to eternity,” Andrais said.

For Nashville resident Holly, it’s her first time back since 2017 and she made the trip to heal and reconnect all over again.

“It was the most beautiful solemn moment of my life but also filled with so much joy and so much love from everyone here the spirit of aloha just pervaded the whole crowd, and it was so healing to be here,” said Holly. “And I had a hard time letting go because it was so fresh still.”

After hula and other performances, the sun set behind the Waianae Mountains, and attendees were given the OK to float their lanterns. Colby Alcalde, an Oahu resident honoring his grandma, said, “My mama, my grandma, we just had her services a couple of days ago. Rest in peace, Mama, we love you.”

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The saying “many rivers one ocean” came to life as volunteers in canoes placed each lantern in the water.

To watch the entire ceremony that live-streamed on KHON2.com, click here.