Happy Mid-Autumn Festival!!
In past years, the mid-autumn festival was held to give thanks for a bountiful harvest and to reunite with long-lost family members. The latter of course retains relevance today, the former a bit less so. One of Hong Kong’s most important cultural celebrations, this year’s holiday was enjoyed mostly this past weekend in various forms around the city. The most prominent manifestations were the sprawling lantern festival in Victoria Park and the hotly intense Tai Hang Fire Dragon Dance nearby, both modernized versions of festivals that have taken place for centuries – and huge draws for families, friends, and photographers alike.
Lunar influence over these rituals is strong, as the full moon’s round shape indicates unity in Chinese culture. Quite poetic indeed that the supermoon phenomenon happened to coincide with this year’s festival.
But even without the supermoon, the celebrations are fascinating. The larger-than-life lanterns in some instances veer toward kitschy, and Victoria Park quickly devolves into a sweeping landscape of back-lit selfies, but somehow it all remains charming – if for no other reason than to see all the kids (big and small) smile.
The fire dragon dance a few minutes’ walk away in Tai Hang is a hypnotic, chaotic affair, as the namesake beast crafted from thousands of lit incense sticks burns and pulsates through Tai Hang in Causeway Bay like a beating heart set to the rhythmic percussion of drums. The men who make this dance happen take their job for the night pretty seriously, but with a hearty dose of fun (although I am starting to wonder why no women seem to be part of the dance). The dragon himself, with his serpentine body, is entrancing. But I also find observing the spectators at this event to be just as entertaining.
Part of the fun is when the dancers dismantle the dragon at the end of the night and give out handfuls of the incense sticks to eager observers, a gesture of good will and good wishes. And as much as I enjoy the pomp and circumstance of the dance itself, I find the quiet right after it ends to be immensely satisfying. One of my favorite, simple pleasures is wandering the back alleys of Tai Hang after most have left the area post-dance. There is this feeling of peace, as incense smoke still faintly hangs in the air, hearty partyers stay out just a little longer to have another drink with friends, the neon signs of the eclectic storefronts burn bright, but all else is dark. I love it. It’s like some kind of dark, urban romance. Like ambling through a Wong Kar-wai film.
National Day, celebrated on October 1, really belongs to the mainland, as it celebrates the anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China in 1949. There are of course ongoing challenges to and protests against what some believe is the continuing or growing influence of the mainland on Hong Kong. So not everyone feels this is an occasion to commemorate. Despite these sentiments, Hong Kong and Macau take the day off and polish it off with fireworks (of course).
I hope that you and yours enjoyed the holidays this week! Or at least the imagery..
All images © 2015 deb fong photography