The first Water Lantern Festival in Grand Rapids kicked off today at Millennium Park in Wyoming.
The festival opened its gates at the waterfront where festival-goers enjoyed a variety of activities before releasing the lanterns into the water. Local vendors including Sugar & Snails Facepainting, Higher Health Chiropractic and Costo set up tents to showcase their crafts products and services for the public while an array of local food trucks like Kona Ice, Blue Spoon and Do Your Wurst, to name a few, provided a variety of food.
The family-friendly event provided an opportunity for those interested in releasing a lantern to decorate one. Some chose messages of hope like Michelle Riley, 52, of Grand Rapids who designed her water lantern in memory of her loved ones who have passed away.
“I basically wrote in memory of those who’ve gone before me, all my loved ones, and it’s for everyone to be the light they want to be,” Riley said. “It’s a message of hope. I’m always thinking about them, especially my mom. She’s who I think about all the time, every day. So I wanted to do it in memory of her and of course all the other ones too that I do think about.”
Others like Mary Markaity-Sullivan, 60, of Wyoming chose a similar message in honor of her beloved pets who have passed and to share feelings that are often difficult.
“I made mine a tribute to all of our pets that have died over the last 10 years or so,” Markaity-Sullivan said. “I just wanted to honor how much joy and happiness they brought me, and we don’t get to talk about that stuff everyday so it’s a nice occasion.”
The purpose of writing a message on the lanterns, according to the Water Lantern Event Guide, is to “reflect on your life, share your dreams and feel the peace of all those around you as you enjoy the reflection of the lanterns upon the water.”
For Lucy Near, 18, of Grand Rapids, releasing the lanterns into the water was therapeutic.
“For me at least, I think it will help me feel less stressed,” she said. Near attended the festival with her friends who all attend Grand Valley State University.
The water lanterns are biodegradable and eco-friendly. They are made up of rice paper and wood. Event organizers, with the help of volunteers, collected all of the lanterns from the water after they were released. According to the Water Lantern Festival “Environmental” page on its website, festival organizers are “committed to leaving each community cleaner than when we arrived. We go to great lengths to ensure a cleaner, more beautiful environment,” a fact that was reassuring to most as it was a concern among those in attendance.