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05/28/2014 11:13 am ET | Updated May 28, 2014

On Memorial Day, A 'Sea Of Memories' Filled Honolulu Waters With Light

On Monday evening, after most Memorial Day barbecues cooled down, around 50,000 people gathered on the shores of Ala Moana Beach Park in Honolulu to watch thousands of floating lanterns illuminate a "sea of memories."

During the annual event, officially known as Lantern Floating Hawaii and hosted by the Shinyo-en Buddhist Order of Hawaii, 6,000 lanterns adorned with handwritten notes, photos and other personal ornaments, were sent aflame into the ocean in honor of loved ones who have passed away, according to KHON.

For relatives of Kawehi Adkins-Kupukaa, a young girl who died at the age of 14 in a car accident, it’s a time to receive solace and encouragement in a community of others also healing. "A lot of people have stopped by [our tent]," her aunt Sharlene Kupukaa told the Honolulu Star Advertiser. "We got to tell them about Kawehi, and we also got to hear their stories ... There's a kind of healing that happens when we're all here together supporting each other."

Traditionally, lantern floating ceremonies are held during Bon season (in July and August), a Japanese Buddhist ritual honoring ancestry, but in 1999, Her Holiness Shinso Ito began to hold this one on Memorial Day to make it relatable to Americans, too.

After the ceremony, volunteers on surfboards retrieved each lantern so they didn't get lost at sea. The lanterns and messages were then taken back to the Shinnyo-en Temple where prayers were said over them.

The moving experience is also one of the most photogenic events to happen around the world:

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