In many parts of the world the seventh lunar month (corresponding roughly with August) is recognized as 'Ghost Month'. In communities influenced by the Chinese Buddhist and Taoist traditions, 'Hungry Ghost' festivals are held to remember, honor, help, and obtain assistance from those who have passed before us. The rituals are as varied as the communities that practice them, and often include the burning of Joss money and offerings of food for the ghosts who are free to wander the earth during this special time. In researching Ghost Month, I learned of one of the most beautiful and moving traditions I have ever come across. Originating in China and Japan, the tradition of placing lanterns afloat to memorialize and aid the dead has begun to catch on in the United States.
Forest Hills Cemetery, in Boston, holds an annual Lantern Festival in July. Drawing inspiration from Japan’s Buddhist Bon Festival, thousands gather at Lake Hibiscus at sunset to send rafts of message-carrying candlelit lanterns drifting over to the other side.
Lantern Floating Hawaii is based on Toro Nagashi—a Japanese ceremony started by the Shinnyo-en Buddhist order in 1952, and traditionally held in July and August to mark the end of Obon festival season. Translated literally, the words toro nagashi mean "lantern offerings on water." Hawaii’s Shinnyo-en order holds its ceremony annually on Memorial Day to honor lives lost in war, and to remember departed loved ones. There are prayers for a future filled with peace and harmony. Participants write the names of the deceased and messages of comfort on paper lanterns, which are then set adrift onto the open ocean. This year more than 2,000 candle-lit lanterns will be released from Ala Moana Beach. -from Hawaii Magazine
Here is an exerpt from the Lantern Floating Hawaii site, and a video of this breathtaking ritual from YouTube.
Every Memorial Day thousands of people gather at Ala Moana Beach Park for the Lantern Floating Ceremony led by Her Holiness Keishu Shinso, the spiritual head of Shinnyo-en. The ceremony remembers those who gave their lives in conflict, allows for reflection on the memories of loved ones and dedicates prayers for a peaceful and harmonious future. Just as the waters of the Pacific merge with each ocean, the wish for peace and happiness extends from Hawaii across the globe. The Lantern Floating is free and open to all regardless of nationality, race, faith or lifestyle. Each individual who takes part in the ceremony will bring their own unique life journey, memories, and hopes with them. Each personal experience adds to the healing and transformative power of the event. For those wishing to make prayer requests, they will be accepted from all people regardless of religious belief. A limited number of lanterns will also be made available to the public beginning at 1 p.m.