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Lantern Festival tonight at Forest Hills Cemetery


Photo by Chris Engles

Tonight marks the return of Forest Hills Cemetery’s annual Lantern Festival. Inspired by the Japanese Buddhist custom of honoring the deceased spirits of one’s family each year, the event is modeled on the Buddhist Bon celebration. Buddhist belief holds that one day each year a door opens to the world of a person’s ancestors, allowing the person to send messages to loved ones on the other side. In Japan, during the Bon festival, families gather to clean their ancestors’ graves before floating paper lanterns down rivers, signaling the ancestral spirts’ return to the dead. This evening’s festival at the Jamaica Plain cemetery invites the public to come together to reminisce and share stories about their loved ones.

What began as a small ceremony 13 years ago has grown to include performances and cultural events, including traditional Japanese dance from Showa Boston, Irish music from guitar and fiddle duo the Whiskey Boys, Chinese dragon dance by the all-female Gund Kwok troupe, and Grand Master Tsuji’s Taiko drummers.

The festival begins at 6 p.m. and culminates with the release of paper lanterns over the cemetery’s lake at nightfall (usually around 8:30 p.m.). Many people arrive early to enjoy the park-like grounds and lake, and with a crowd of more than 4,000 expected, it’s advisable to get there well before 6. Paper lanterns are available for a requested donation of $10, and calligraphers will be on hand to help design and decorate them. And for those who want to design their own, there will be a station stocked with crayons and markers.

Children and dogs are welcome, and the cemetery invites you to bring your own food and refreshments as well as lawn chairs or blankets. Tonight is the only time all year that visitors are permitted to stay on the cemetery grounds past 10 p.m.

The Lantern Festival will be held at Forest Hills Cemetery, 95 Forest Hills Ave., Jamaica Plain, on Thursday, July 14, beginning at 6 p.m. and is free and open to the public; there is a $10 fee for parking on the cemetery grounds. The rain date is July 21. To get to Forest Hills Cemetery by public transportation, take the MBTA Orange Line trolley outbound from Back Bay Station to the Forest Hills stop. You can also take the #39 bus from Copley Square to the Forest Hills stop. Join the Forest Hills mailing list here to stay informed about events at the cemetery. The cemetery grounds are open every day from 7:30 a.m. until dusk, and the public is encouraged to visit.

Nicole Shelby can be reached at nicolelshelby@gmail.com.

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