JONATHAN CLARK AND CECILY MILLER
Ten years ago, when Forest Hills Cemetery organized its first Lantern Festival—a memorial event inspired by the Japanese Bon Festival, a traditional event held to honor ancestors—no one knew quite what to expect. About 200 people gathered to participate in a ceremony of remembrance by inscribing simple wooden lanterns with personal messages to friends and family who had passed away. At sunset, they lit candles in the lanterns and let them float across lake Hibiscus. The ceremony was both deeply moving and very beautiful, and the cemetery decided to make it an annual event. Word spread, and the next year 600 people gathered at the lake, and the following year, more than 1,000.
This year, on July 17, Forest Hills Cemetery and the Forest Hills Educational Trust expect 4,000 people to attend what has become one of the city’s most-loved events. Some people attend faithfully every year, some travel great distances. Families hold reunions and friends meet to picnic and reminisce. Participants enjoy gospel music, traditional Asian folk dances and Japanese Taiko drumming. Then they decorate their lanterns with messages, poems and drawings.
The festival’s growth is a testament to its importance as a community celebration and as a personal ritual. A thousand lanterns illuminate the darkness as they cross the water at sunset; their light suggests the hope and love that survives death, and the gathering of lanterns suggests the strength and warmth of community that sustain us through difficult times.
The 10th Annual Lantern Festival takes place Thurs., July 17, (rain date July 24) at historic Forest Hills Cemetery, from 6 to 9 p.m. There is a $10 parking fee. Attendees are urged to take the T and take a blanket, a picnic and a flashlight to guide their exit. Admission is free, with a $10 requested donation per lantern. For more information, see www.foresthillstrust.org.
The writers are on the staff of Forest Hills Educational Trust.