Lanterns light up the sky to help Huntington Beach girl celebrate sweet 16th

Madison Moore launches a paper lantern into the night during a surprise 16th-birthday celebration for her Tuesday in Huntington Beach.
(Scott Smeltzer / Staff Photographer)

Madison Moore’s 16th-birthday party was going to be on a yacht.

Her family rented a small one in Newport Beach, where the Huntington Beach High School sophomore and about 60 of her friends were to go on a cruise next week. But then the coronavirus pandemic swept the globe and California issued an order calling for residents to stay home except for essential purposes.

That meant Madison’s party had to be canceled.

“We just kept waiting. ‘Oh, it’ll probably blow over and it’ll be fine,’ said Dawne Moore, Madison’s mother. “And we just kept planning and planning and all of a sudden it just kept getting progressively worse until finally [the company] called me and said ‘Yes, we’re going to have to shut down.’”

“They obviously refunded our deposit, refunded everything, and then ... I just decided, ‘Let’s try to make it as special as we can for right now,’” Moore said. “Obviously, a 16th birthday is a big deal.”

Moore started looking into ways that she and her family could celebrate her daughter’s big day while abiding by social distancing guidelines.

Claire Robbins prepares to launch a paper lantern during a surprise 16th-birthday celebration for her friend Madison Moore on Tuesday night in Huntington Beach.
(Scott Smeltzer / Staff Photographer)

Madison hadn’t been able to see her friends since Huntington Beach High and other schools throughout the state closed as part of efforts to curb the spread of the coronavirus.

She said she didn’t think there would be a birthday celebration at all.

But Moore was searching online for ideas when she came upon lighting paper lanterns and sending them into the sky.

At first, she bought enough lanterns only for her immediate family. But some of Madison’s friends wanted to join the celebration and surprise her.

Moore set the gathering for Tuesday night in a neighborhood park in Huntington Beach.

“They’re all socially distant, lighting their lanterns and releasing them like something out of a movie, and it’s a surprise,” Moore said. “That’s pretty much the only thing we could do, right?”

Kendall Heinrich prepares her sky lantern for launch during a surprise birthday celebration for her friend Madison Moore on Tuesday night in Huntington Beach.
(Scott Smeltzer / Staff Photographer)

She said she has heard of other people doing drive-by visits for birthday parties or going on Zoom calls with their friends, but she wanted to try something different and what she felt would be more memorable for her daughter.

Elle Talala, Madison’s best friend, said she felt the celebration was unique. She helped organize the friends and set up name placards that marked off the recommended six feet between participants.

“It’s supposed to be your special day, so I felt like [this] was the least we could do to help make her day a little more special,” Elle said.

“I think it’s important [to still celebrate] because no one’s really been through this before, so we’re all kind of in it together and it’s nobody’s fault who has a birthday this month or next month or anything. So make it as special as possible and maintain social distancing ... as best as we could.”

Claire Robbins, another of Madison’s friends, said it was fun and nice to see friends again.

But she added that they couldn’t get too close to Madison as she was being led to the park by her parents and younger brother.

Sky lanterns rise into the night air Tuesday during a surprise 16th-birthday celebration for Madison Moore of Huntington Beach.
(Scott Smeltzer / Staff Photographer)

Some parents helped their children as they prepared to light the lanterns. Moore and her husband, Jason, relayed instructions on how to light them. The group of about 14 girls set off two flights of lanterns before the get-together came to an end.

“I had no idea,” Madison said. “I thought we were just taking pictures with our family. But as we got closer, I started to realize it was all my friends. I was so happy to be able to see my friends again. This made my birthday so much better.”

“I think it’s really nice that everyone did this for me and I’m really grateful,” she added. “I think [lantern lighting] is a really cool idea and it’s super unique. I’ve never really seen or heard of a lot of people doing this, so it’s really cool.”

Support our coverage by becoming a digital subscriber.