I first came to Hawaii in late May of 2007, just a week after finishing my college exams and starting summer break. It was a whirlwind vacation of shopping and swimming, doing things that I’ve rarely, if ever, done since moving here; and yet, at the same time, it wasn’t as hectic as some vacations. I had a whole two weeks to spend, and I spent them on Hawaii time, often taking a chance to relax and just enjoy doing nothing with my family. I had already adopted the notion that I could always come back again, rather than trying to cram everything into one visit, and it’s a travel motto that has worked well for me thus far.
One of the most enjoyable parts of my vacation was the fact that, falling over Memorial Day as it did, I was invited to a barbecue with my cousin and her friends. This, to me, was a glimpse of true Hawaii that the average tourist could never hope to see. I was dropped at the front to escort my cousin’s toddler son in while she parked the car. As we made our way up the walk, I was greeted joyfully by dozens of people I’d never before met, and immediately led to the food, of which I was encouraged to try everything. Nobody asked who I was or what I was doing there; all I heard was “Eat, eat! Have a seat!” [Would you, could you, with a beet?] It was this experience, especially, that would influence my later decision to move to Hawaii.
On Memorial Day of my visit, my Aunt and I took my cousin’s two year old daughter down to the Lantern Floating festival at Ala Moana Beach Park. We drove into town and parked at the Hawaii Convention Center, then took a free shuttle to the waterfront. Little M was adorable and cooperative, and did not fuss the entire time we were there. It was within a short time of walking the beach that we ran into someone Aunty knew, and we joined them under their tent, just like family. We got our lantern, made of paper and bamboo and a floating foam base, and with a marker wrote the names of relatives passed. Aunty took M off exploring while I meandered to take photos. We reconvened beneath the tent as the ceremony started. Jumbo screens high above the sand allowed the crowd– a sea of people– to watch a display of dancers and musicians. The lantern lighting ceremony was quiet, solemn, echoing with the memories of souls. Everything turned black and gold as the lanterns met the water at the same time as the sun. In the ringing of the music and the rushing of the waves, there was peace, and again, like I had at the barbecue, I felt I was Home.
Although I moved to Hawaii in January, it is the Lantern Festival that marks my decision to come here (even if I hadn’t known it at the time). I attended it last year, and this past weekend, and hope to attend next year as well. Tradition gained.