The Mid-Autumn Festival is the most important holiday in China after Chinese New Year – and nowhere celebrates it quite like Hong Kong. Expect thumping drums, lanterns in all colours and forms, dragon dances and as many mooncakes as you can eat. This highlight of the Hong Kong calendar is bookable through Culture Trip.
Originally a harvest ritual, the Mid-Autumn Festival has been celebrated since the early Shang Dynasty (1600-1046 BCE). In the past, Chinese families would make offerings of wine and mooncakes to the heavens, expressing gratitude for the year’s harvest.
The festival is associated with the full moon, taking place on the 8th full moon in the Lunar Calendar – in September or October in the Western calendar. At this time, Earth’s satellite appears larger and rounder, due to its elliptical orbit cycle.
As the movement of the moon was observed to be closely related to seasonal harvests in ancient times, the festival also commemorates the moon goddess Chang’e. According to the legend, Chang’e was once a mortal woman who swallowed an elixir of immortality that caused her to fly up to the moon. She is also said to be accompanied by a jade rabbit, whose silhouette can be spotted on the surface of the moon.
In Hong Kong, festivities run for close to a week, and the day after the festival is a public holiday. Here’s what you should see, do and eat as the celebrations unfold.
The annual Urban Mid-Autumn Lantern Carnival in Victoria Park draws huge crowds for its craft workshops, street-food stalls and colourful lanterns. Performances range from Cantonese opera and folk bands to martial arts displays and hip-hop dance troupes. The date for Carnival Night is usually set a few days before festival day.
The day after Carnival Night is a programme of celebrations dubbed Youth Night, which features performances by youngsters, such as junior orchestras and dance groups.
For those who live far away, two other festivals are held in the New Territories. One takes place at Tin Shui Wai Park and Ginza Square, and the other is at Tai Po Waterfront Park.
Made of lotus seed paste and salted duck egg yolk, this traditional pastry is sold everywhere during the Mid-Autumn Festival.
As the festival approaches, you’ll be bound to see them in every shop and bakery around town, as well as in hotel kitchens and restaurant tea specials. Local bakeries like Kee Wah, Taipan, Wing Wah and more are all good bets.
Maxim’s, one of the biggest mooncake manufacturers, is one of the most popular shops to pick up the sweet festival treats. It has 50 branches across the city, many inside MTR stations, so you can grab them en route to the action.
However, the mooncake’s heavy flavour and high calorie count isn’t for everyone. In recent years, shops have been competing with each other to come up with new twists and variations on the traditional recipe. In particular, Häagen-Dazs’ ice cream mooncakes are immensely popular with locals, so be sure to stop by.
The Tai Hang Fire Dragon Dance in Causeway Bay is one of the most spectacular events of the season. According to a local legend, the villagers of Tai Hang (an area of Causeway Bay) staved off a plague with a three-day dragon dance in the late 19th century. After a typhoon ravaged the village on the eve of the Mid-Autumn Festival, fortune tellers warned that a fire dance had to be staged for three days and three nights under the full moon, or else a plague would befall the village.
The tradition of the three-day dragon dance survives to this day. The 67m (220ft) dragon is made of rope and straw, supported on long sticks. Lined with around 2,000 incense sticks, its smoky fragrance lingers in the air as it roars through Lily Street, Ormsby Street and Tung Lo Wan Road. The dance reaches the height of its frenzy on the night of the Mid-Autumn Festival itself, when the fiery dragon’s route is extended to Victoria Park.
Incorporating 300 performers and accompanied by drums and firecrackers, it’s truly a sight to behold. According to event organisers, Wun Sha Street offers the best vantage point from which to see the parade.
You’d be forgiven for imagining “lantern display” as paper bags with candles or LED lights. However, Hong Kong’s lantern exhibitions are a lot more flamboyant than that: they consist of massive and vibrantly coloured sculptures lit from within, in a beautiful and artistic display.
The theme changes year on year; one year centred on the theme of space, featuring illuminated inflatable rockets; another year involved neon signboards that evoked Old Hong Kong, along with with ’50s movie screenings.
Not a fan of crowds? You’re not the only one. Many people in Hong Kong use the Mid-Autumn Festival as a chance to spend some low-key time with small groups of family and friends. Feel free to opt out of the more raucous festivities; instead, spread out a blanket on a beach or park for a late-night picnic as you gaze up at the full moon.
Good spots for such gatherings include Repulse Bay Beach, Shek O, Discovery Bay and the Sai Kung Astropark.