Illuminate the night in remembrance, honor for loved ones who’s lights were snuffed out

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The water of Reeds Bay off Banyan Drive in Hilo, albeit still calm and gentle, becomes dark after sunset, no longer lighted to show off its normal inviting blue.

The sky follows suit as the sun sinks behind Mauna Kea until, eventually, the bay’s beach is also shrouded in shadows.

Keiki get ready to launch their lanterns in honor and memory of lost loved ones during the 2023 Celebration of Life at Reeds Bay in Hilo. (Photo courtesy of Hawai‘i Care Choices)

But for one evening each year, at the end of May, thousands of people gather on the beach and wade into the bay’s shallows to illuminate the darkness in an uplifting and soul-touching tribute to loved ones whose lights have been snuffed out.

Hawai‘i Care Choices invites the community this weekend to Reeds Bay Beach Park at 225 Banyan Drive for its 20th annual Celebration of Life.

The celebration is from 3:30 to 7:30 p.m. Sunday, free to attend and open to the public.

More than 3,500 people turn out each year for the Big Island’s largest lantern floating event. It’s the emotional main event, launching at sunset. Hundreds, likely more than 1,000, of luminaries are hand-decorated, personalized by family members and released into the bay.


Have you gotten your lantern yet? There’s still a little time.

The lanterns — just like the community launching them — light up the night in remembrance of those no longer with us. A soft, warm, golden hue glows brightly over the dark bay waters and sky, honoring those loved ones not only for the lives they lived but the lives they touched.

It says they’ll never be forgotten.

A Hawai‘i Care Choices counselor said in the past that the luminaries symbolize people’s loved ones, who are always in their hearts. Watching them float and emblaze the night in that golden glow also serves as an outlet for people grieving, allowing them to express emotions in a shared experience so they know others are on the path of healing, too.

“Such an amazing event in memory of our loved ones,” said Curah Segovia of Puna in reply to a Hawai‘i Care Choices post May 29, 2023, on Facebook sharing a story from last year’s celebration.


Luminaries are available to purchase online through Saturday. You can also buy them during pop-up sales events from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday at KTA Puainako in Hilo and Mālama Market in Pāhoa.

Lanterns in honor and memory of loved ones float in Reeds Bay during the 2023 Celebration of Life in Hilo presented by Hawai‘i Care Choices. (Photo from the Hawai‘i Care Choices Facebook page)

If you already purchased a lantern, the last day you can pick it up early is today at Hawai‘i Care Choices. Stop by the agency’s offices at 1011 Waiānuenue Ave. in Hilo during regular business hours between 8:30 a.m. and 4 p.m.

Lanterns are $25 each. They can also be purchased during the Memorial Day Homelani event from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday at Homelani Memorial Park & Crematory in Hilo.

Decorating tents will be open from noon to 6 p.m. at Reeds Bay Beach Park.

Luminaries can be purchased during Sunday’s celebration, but only while supplies last. As of early Thursday night, the Celebration of Life page on the Hawai‘i Care Choices website showed there were more than 700 lanterns left.


All proceeds from luminary sales support Big Island hospice families and community members receiving bereavement care.

The lanterns will not be returned. All of them will be collected after the float and ceremoniously burned.

This year’s Celebration of Life is once again full of activities, entertainment and ono food sure to be fun for the whole family.

An “epic paddle-out” E Ola Maui ceremony will be dedicated in solidarity with those on Maui who suffered extreme loss because of the Aug. 8 wildfires, one of which devastated historic Lahaina and killed more than 100 people.

Canoe paddlers, firshermen, divers, surfers and paddleboarders will paddle out at noon into Reeds Bay to send heartfelt blessings, prayers of support, strength and healing to all who grieve and strive to rebuild on the Valley Isle.

“It will be a definitive presentation of unity and aloha,” says Hawai‘i Care Choices.

Hula dancers perform in the rain during the 2023 Celebration of Life in Hilo. (Photo courtesy of Hawai‘i Care Choices)

The Celebration of Life program opens at 3:30 p.m. with the Big Island’s first bon dance of obon season led by the Hilo Bon Dance Club and Tsukikage Odori Kai Dancers. All ages are welcome to join.

Live music, hula performances, local vendors and local artists also are part of the festivities, and some of the island’s best food trucks, pop-up eateries, shave ice and Andagi donuts will be available.

New to the event this year is the Pop-Up Mākeke tent, offering locally made baked goods, bentos, keiki meals and event T-shirts beginning at noon.

Multi-faith prayers will lead up the lantern float at sunset.

Free parking is available at the Afook-Chinen Civic Auditorium on Manono Street, with continuous shuttles to Reeds Bay from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Return shuttles begin at 7:30 p.m., following the luminaries being released.

“Memorial Day is more than just a 3-day weekend,” says an April 15 post on the Hawai‘i Care Choices Facebook page. “It’s now a #HILO tradition for thousands of families to get together in Reeds Bay to honor their loved ones.”

For more information, click here or follow Hawai‘i Care Choices on Facebook and Instagram. You can also email to

  • A Big Island family poses for a photo while displaying their hand-decorated lanterns for a past Celebration of Life. (Photo from the Hawai‘i Care Choices Facebook page)
  • A volunteer helps launch hand-decorated lanterns in memory of loved ones during the 2023 Celebration of Life at Reeds Bay in Hilo. (Photo from the Hawai‘i Care Choices Facebook page)
  • Community members display their hand-decorated luminaries during the 2023 Celebration of Life at Reeds Bay in Hilo. (Photo courtesy of Hawai‘i Care Choices)
  • A photo from the 2023 Hawai‘i Care Choices Celebration of Life at Reeds Bay Beach Park in Hilo. (Photo courtesy of Hawai‘i Care Choices)
  • Community members decorate their luminaries during the 2023 Celebration of Life in Hilo. (Photo courtesy of Hawai‘i Care Choices)
  • Community members decorate luminaries during the 2023 Celebration of Life at Reeds Bay in Hilo. (Photo courtesy of Hawai‘i Care Choices)

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