Sep 27, 2017

Mid-Autumn Festival

Hong Kong

The Mid-Autumn or Moon festival is one of the most well-known and widely celebrated Chinese festivals, after the Chinese New Year. It celebrates the start of the harvest season, occurring on the fifteenth day of the eighth month of the Chinese lunar calendar. Many people travel from mainland China to see the festivities held on Hong Kong island, where people get a public holiday on the day after the festival. The festival is usually celebrated in the months of September or October. This year, it falls on October 4, 2017.

Legend

The Mid-Autumn festival is celebrated by worshipping the moon. According to a popular legend, there once was a great archer by the name of Houyi. Instead of one, ten suns rose in the sky. He saved the world and its inhabitants by shooting down nine out of those ten suns and saved one to sustain life. He was hugely celebrated and made King by the people’s unanimous vote.

But as time progressed, he became increasingly tyrannous and greedy. He then asked for elixir from the deity Xiwangmu or Queen Mother, to attain immortality. Before he could have it, his wife Chang’e stole the elixir on the fifteenth day of the eighth month, to save the people from his cruelty. When Houyi found out, he was furious and tried to kill his wife. To flee his rage, Chang’e escaped to the moon and still resides there.

 

The Mid-Autumn festival began in thanksgiving to Chang’e.

 

History

History records the Mid-Autumn Chinese celebrations marking a prosperous harvest as far back as 2,000 years ago. Kings prayed to heavenly bodies and mountains for a good harvest. Daytime of the fifteenth day of the eighth month was dedicated to praying to the sun, and the evening was marked by praying to the moon.

During the Tang Dynasty (618-907 AD) the festivities took the form of a proper festival which has only been expanded upon by different rulers of later dynasties.

Empress Dowager Cixi, who ruled in the late nineteenth century, introduced another major tradition which is followed even today in some parts: elaborate rituals for thanksgiving which stretch several days before and after the festival.

 

Symbols

Lanterns

Lanterns are a huge part of the celebrations the Mid-Autumn festival, with lantern lighting having been a central part of the celebration for thousands of years. Lantern Carnivals are a mainstay in Hong Kong.

During the Qing Dynasty, Hong Kong fishermen would light lanterns for the Ghost Festival, celebrated a month before the Mid-Autumn festival, by placing lanterns in the rivers. It was believed that the lanterns helped to guide the spirits of the drowned. The lanterns lit during the Ghost Festival were maintained until mid-autumn.

Traditionally, these lanterns were made of paper but today they are mostly made of plastic lit by electric lights. People also write riddles on these lanterns, as part of custom.

In Hong Kong’s lantern carnivals today, parades of children holding paper lanterns of every shape and size are followed by performances, songs and dances based around these lanterns.

    

Mooncakes

In olden times, the harvest festival was a time for the whole family to come together. People who worked away from home came back to celebrate. The Circle, the Chinese symbol for completeness or reunion, played an important part in these celebrations as people celebrated by giving out spherical fruits and circular mooncakes to family members.

Although mooncakes had been around for a very long time, they became a popular token of symbolic value only after the Song Dynasty.

This tradition is still carried out today, with people give out mooncakes to family and friends to symbolise reunion and unity. Traditionally, mooncakes were made with a filling of crushed lotus seeds and egg yolk, but are available today in any flavour or combination imaginable.

Mooncakes are the token dish that represent the Mid-Autumn festival in other Asian and Western countries as well.

 

 

Other beloved Hong Kong Festivals

Apart from the Mid-Autumn festival, Hong Kong hosts a number of other festivals with panache. Hong Kong celebrates New Year’s Eve, Easter and Christmas with the world, in addition to some festivals that are specific to the region.

Chinese New Year in Hong Kong, like in many other Asian countries, is the biggest event of the year. It is celebrated with the same enthusiasm as the Mid-Autumn festival, but on an even larger scale.

 

Lion Dance

The Lion Dance is an important part of the Chinese New Year celebrations. Two people, well-trained in acrobatics and dressed in a single lion’s costume, perform in street parades and on stage – even in public buildings!

Lions in Chinese culture are believed to ward off evil spirits. People dressed as lions walk amidst firecrackers, gongs and drums.

The Lion Dance is an important feature of the traditional festivities in Hong Kong. In 2011, the city set the record for the longest procession of this dance, with 1,111 Dragons and Lions.

The Dragon Boat Festival, which includes the now world-famous Dragon Boat Carnival of Hong Kong, is celebrated on the fifth day of the fifth lunar month of the Chinese calendar. The vibrantly coloured dragon boats, beer and the traditional food, zongzi, are highlights of this day.

The Ching Ming Festival and Chung Yeung Festival, celebrated during the third and the ninth lunar month respectively, are festivals dedicated to the age-old Chinese practice of ancestor worship. During Ching Ming people clean their ancestors’ graves and burn faux paper money to help their loved ones in their next lives.

During Ching Yeung, people worship their ancestors and honour custom with picnics at high hill tops.

 

Specifics

It’s hard to spot a dark corner of the city during the Mid-Autumn festival, with festivities spread throughout the city. Victoria Park in Causeway Bay, Hong Kong island, is the place to be if you want to enjoy the Mid-Autumn festival in all its magnificence.

In one interesting anecdote, it is said that the villagers of 19th century Tai Hang warded off the plague after they built a dragon out of straw, covered it in incense and set it on fire before dancing around it to ward off the evil spirit. They are believed to have successfully warded of the plague through these measures – and to this day, Tai Hang celebrates the Fire Dragon Dance every year.

The Park hosts the most spectacular Tai Hang fire Dragon dance, lantern-themed carnivals, stage performances, food stalls, card readings… and all other things Mid-Autumn!

 

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