A Journey of Light and Wonder at Jersey City’s Annual Water Lantern Festival

by Laura DeSiena

As the sun sinks below the horizon, a sea of glowing lanterns come to life behind a black starry sky as they are launched onto the waters of the Hudson River. Crowds young and old gather as they watch the flames drift away into the night, symbolizing a release of their hopes, heartfelt letters, and sufferings into the open world. This magical celebration is from non-other than the annual Water Lantern Festival in Jersey City, NJ. Presented by One World LLC, this unique community event offers guests the opportunity to create an unforgettable memory with their friends, family, and loved ones. Participants are instructed to write their hopes, dreams, or personal messages onto illuminating lanterns to release in the water at sunset. It is an incredibly emotional and personal experience, allowing participants to let go of their burdens, find healing, and increase hope and connection with others. 

A Multi-Cultural Tradition

Water Lilies

Water lantern festivals take place in many cultures around the world, each with a special significance to commemorate the often spiritual practice. The first lantern festival originated in India and eventually expanded to Southeast and Eastern Asia as a result of the impact of Hindu and Buddhist customs and beliefs on culture. For centuries, releasing lanterns, whether in the form of water or sky, was seen as a way for people to send away disasters, welcome hope and joy, worship deities, and relay messages to ancestors. 

The release of water lanterns is practiced today in several East Asian countries such as China, Japan, and Korea. Dating back thousands of years to the Han Dynasty, water lanterns are displayed at traditional Chinese celebrations such as the Lantern Festival, the Mid-Autumn Festival, and Chinese New Year. These locus flower-shaped lanterns each have different names, depending on the body of water it is cast into. These names include the floating lantern, the river lantern, the water lamp head, and many more. Lanterns are freed into the water with the belief and hope that their wishes would be acknowledged by their ancestors, therefore able to be granted favorably. 

In Japanese culture, paper lanterns, known as tōrō, cruise down a river traditionally during the Bon Festival. This peaceful custom symbolizes the ushering of the souls of loved ones, family members, or even pets who have passed away into the spirit realm as the lanterns vacate through the delicate streams. It is a moment for closure, peace, and rest for participants and their families as they say goodbye and reflect on those who have departed into another life.    

An Emotional Liberation

Carrying inspiration from the ancient traditions of Asian culture, the Water Lantern Festival provides guests with an emotional and momentous experience from start to finish. Each adult ticket includes a wristband with access to the area along with important items such as a floating lantern made out of environmentally friendly rice paper and wood, a commemorative drawstring bag, LED light to illuminate the lantern, a marker for inscribing wishes or messages, playing cards, and conversation cards to get to know the people around you. 

The event begins 3 hours before the launch at sunset with many entertainment and dining options on the premises such as live music and a diverse assortment of food trucks. With breathtaking views of the New York City skyline, participants are then encouraged to write on their square wooden lanterns special messages, reflect inwardly, and unify deeply with the others around them. 

Although this is not a religious event, many feel a spiritual connection or meaning from the act of releasing these lanterns into the water. According to Psychology Today, written emotional disclosure is an effective way to process powerful negative emotions and past trauma. Letting go of burdened emotions helps us to live a long, joyful life without the weight of negativity harboring us down. Even expressing positive feelings helps us to practice gratitude, leading to a feeling of fulfillment in life. 

As you prepare your deepest hopes, dreams, and feelings ready for departure, you can be sure the act is helping you become a happier and stronger person. Launching them into the ribbon-like waters together with loved ones or strangers who have similar wishes and dreams for their life is an empowering declaration of a new life ahead. Additionally, the experience creates treasured memories with family and friends that last a lifetime.   

[150-365] Floating of Lanterns ~ explored

As you watch the beautifully radiant lanterns voyage into the horizon, you may question the environmental impact it may have and if it is an ethical practice. Fortunately, the staff at the Water Lantern Festival is committed to preserving the environment and ensures the clean-up of every lantern after the event comes to a close. They operate in a “no trace policy”, gathering all lanterns off the water, clearing out any existing trash around the area, reusing LED lights for future events, and leaving the area cleaner than they found it.

To attend this magical water lantern festival, One World Lantern Festival LLC is hosting the event in Jersey City on September 23 & 24, with doors opening at 4:00 p.m. Located at Liberty State Park by the Columbus Monument, tickets for purchase and additional information can be found here. The lantern takeoff takes place from 7:00-9:00 p.m., so don’t forget to arrive early to ensure adequate time to decorate your lantern.

About the Author/s

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Laura DeSiena is a certified Jersey Girl with a passion for music, playing the guitar, and binge-watching 90’s sitcoms. As an aspiring writer and author, she hopes to publish a book someday. When she’s not writing, you can usually find her browsing the shelves of Barnes & Noble in search of her next read.

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