Into moon worship? The Mid-Autumn Festival that seemingly takes over this part of the world (at least until a typhoon tries to take center stage) is celebrated during the full moon in the (lucky) eighth month of the lunar calendar. Roughly equivalent to Thanksgiving in the USA, it is a national holiday celebrated with family and friends. This year, it fell on 19 September, with festivities held across the city over the past several days.
Various colorful myths and meanings underpin this festival, ranging from the bounty of the traditional mid-autumn harvest to fertility to immortality. The perfect circle of a full moon represents harmonious union, a key motif of this holiday.
The moon theme is carried through in the (in)famous ritual of gifting mooncakes, round pastries traditionally filled with a curious mixture of lotus seed paste and salted egg yolk. Incredibly dense and fattening (mostly to manufacturers’ wallets), mooncakes are an acquired taste – maybe even to locals. Almost 2 million of them are tossed every year in HK alone. As pleasant a tradition as mooncakes are in theory, they are a subject of extensive debate – both for flavor and environmental (packaging) reasons. Personally, even though I grew up eating them, I could take or leave them. I guess you could say mooncakes are sort of the fruitcake of the east.
But I digress. As a relative newcomer, I am better equipped to share images and impressions from the more visual elements of the Mid-Autumn Festival, which are lovely and plentiful.
On the evening of the festival itself, we joined several of Mark’s colleagues and countless others on the southern beach of Repulse Bay. Not quite what I was expecting, it felt like a throwback moment to college – the stretch of beach we occupied was chock full of students indulging their appetite for alcohol. That said, no one was out of control – just having a great time under the light of the full moon and surrounded by creatively placed lightsticks, the occasional traditional lantern, and loads of friends.
Lanterns are an integral part of the Mid-Autumn Festival. In their more classic form, they look like lanterns you may have seen in old Chinese films, or perhaps fanciful creatures.
While I generally appreciate tradition, I also really admire those who reinvent it. A design team did just that when creating ‘Rising Moon’, a 10-meter-high glowing orb that took residence in Victoria Park over the last week. Resembling the moon upon initial viewing and modern lanterns upon a closer look, this walk-in exhibit was made using recycled water bottles and LED lights (a more environmentally friendly statement than moon cakes).
No stranger to light-and-sound shows, HK embraced this concept to great effect here, entertaining visitors every 15 minutes.
Victoria Park was also filled with the sights and sounds of the yellow-lantern-lit ‘Wishing Corridor’, comical oversized recreations of market food stalls, magical raindrop lights, and other colorful displays that would summon anyone’s inner child.
In Tai Hang, locals and visitors gather en masse every year to observe the Fire Dragon Dance. This dragon is crafted using painstakingly placed, lit incense sticks. The waiting period preceding the dance is a test for anyone with even a hit of agoraphobia, but after some controlled chaos (and perhaps some yoga breathing on your part), you are rewarded with a smoky, boisterous, very local experience.
Unless you queue up for hours or can snag a spot in the buildings above the crowds, it is challenging at best to get up close and personal with the beast. But oftentimes, the best part of a spectacle is actually the spectators. After all, at its heart, this holiday is really about family and friends. So just walk among your fellow spectators, take it all in, stop by the local eatery and grab a bite to eat (or a Pocari Sweat – trust me, you’ll need it!), laugh with the children, hug your loved ones, and let your thoughts wander to the pounding beat of the endless drums. Close your eyes, breathe in the incense…you are in Hong Kong. And you are now part of one of the most important holidays of the year.
For more information, please visit the official HK Mid-Autumn Festival page.
For more images, please visit my photography website.