Mid-Autumn Festival is knocking at our door, and it’s the perfect time to get together with your family and friends to enjoy a day of mooncake indulgence! We’ve got the lowdown on the holiday, its history and what’s on around Hong Kong, so you’ll have everything you need to enjoy the holiday perfect right here.
WHAT IS IT?
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Mid Autumn Festival is one of the most charming and colourful events celebrated in Hong Kong, lighting up our city with lanterns, light shows and fiery dragon dances! Traditionally celebrated as a Harvest Festival, people would gather to make offerings of food and drink to the moon Goddess, Chang’e, and to give thanks for crops harvested during the year. The festival’s roots trace back as far as the Tang Dynasty (from around 600AD), so it’s pretty well established in Chinese Culture.
Legend has it that Chang’e blesses her worshippers with beauty and people light lanterns in her honour, hoping that she’ll see them clearly from the sky. Lanterns are a big part of celebrating Mid-Autumn Festival in Hong Kong. Traditionally they were made from paper, lit with candles and were cylindrical in shape, but nowadays they’re more commonly battery operated (probably due to safety concerns for the kiddies!), plastic, and come in every shape and cartoon character you think of.
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Markets and shops all over Hong Kong put out the lanterns this time of year. Sheung Wan in particular has a cluster of traditional lantern shops along Queen’s Road West that are not only reasonably priced, but also delicately made. Picking one can be a difficult decision with such a huge range of styles to choose from!
Another option is to buy a lantern online. Etsy (read our guide to Etsy here!) is one of our favourite online shops, packed full with independent designers and businesses from all over the world selling unique products not readily available on the high street. You’ll be sure to find a lantern that no one else has. If you’ve left your lantern-buying to last minute, why not pop onto TaoBao, a world of online shopping from China where you’ll be sure to score some serious steals and deals. It can be a little bit tricky to use, but don’t worry, we’ve got you covered here!
For a more hands on approach, you can always make your own lantern. You only have to search ‘lantern’ on Pinterest to get an array of pictures and DIY tutorials that are sure to inspire you to get crafty this Mid Autumn Festival! Whip out the scissors and glue and see what you can put together. Why not try Sassy Mama’s simple paper lanterns?
WHAT TO EAT
When one thinks of Mid Autumn Festival, mooncakes are the first things that come to mind (and not just because the MTR is plastered in adverts for them!). Made from densely packed lotus seed paste and salted duck egg yolk, these stuffed pastry babies pack a high-calorie punch and are best served in small slices with hot tea. They are traditionally given as gifts between family and friend and are a must if you want to celebrate Mid-Autumn festival like a true Hong Konger.
The holiday season is all about giving, and what better way to show your family and friends you care than by sending them a beautiful hamper filled with goodies? Our go-to hamper guys at Gift Hampers have rustled up a variety of Mid-Autumn themed hampers just for the occasion, with prices ranging from $399-$18,888 to suit your budget. Their brand new gift box has been specially designed in a moon-like round shape, and they can of course include different brands of moon cakes inside! From The Peninsula’s moon cakes to Keewah’s, there’s something for everyone… and if you’re feeling very merry, you can even include a cheeky bottle of wine or champers in the hamper too! What’s more, Gift Hampers HK allows you tailor make your Mid-Autumn Hamper to fit your requirements, so you can send the perfect hamper. Time to put a smile on someone’s face!
You’ll have no problem buying mooncakes as they’re in every store, restaurant, and bakery around- if anything you won’t be able to avoid them! For gourmet limited editions of the well loved dessert, head to any of the top hotels in town. The Langham hotels are offering a range of traditional mooncakes, and the Mandarin Oriental Cake Shop’s moon cake delicacies and hampers are a great way to treat your loved ones!
For something a little cheekier, check out G.O.D’s take on the traditional Mid-Autumn snack! Or if you want to go for a mooncake that makes a difference, Island Shangri-La Hong Kong has paired with the Heep Hong society to produce four traditional moon cakes. Proceeds from the sale go towards helping handicapped children achieve their full potential.
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Mooncakes are like marmite, you either love them or hate them. Not to worry if you’re one of the latter, as there are some great mooncake variations and alternatives out there for you. Haagen-Dazs’ ice cream mooncakes are a huge success in Hong Kong. Their release has become an annual event that many people look forward too (much like the first Starbucks gingerbread latte at Christmas!), and they come in all your favourite ice cream flavours, like Belgian chocolate and cookies and cream. For any of you chocaholics out there, Godiva, 126 Grammes and Gourmet Chocolatier Jean-Paul Hévin have all released ranges of mouth-watering chocolate mooncakes – start loosening your belts, ladies!
If you feel like getting crafty in the kitchen, one of the world’s finest Chinese restaurants Yan Toh Heen is offering a mooncake making class. Impress your friends with your newfound skill and take home a personalised mooncake! For a more DIY approach, head to Shanghai Street in Yau Ma Tei for some moulds and follow this simple recipe to make your own mooncakes at home. If you’re not a big mooncake fan, you could always get creative with a simple biscuit recipe and some moon-shaped cookie cutters!
Mooncakes aren’t the only food traditionally eaten at Mid Autumn Festival and there are a few other nibbles that promise good luck and good fortune! Legend has it that many moons ago, a girl was able to cure her gravely ill parents of their sickness after feeding them a pumpkin. It has since become a tradition to eat pumpkins on Mid-Autumn Festival night to bring people good health. It is also customary to enjoy osmanthus flavoured cake and wine, as it’s during this time of year that the flowers are in full bloom. This is supposed to bring you happiness- but any wine will do that if you can’t get your hands on the Osmanthus variety! The round shape of the watermelon is a symbol of family reunion, making it an essential eat at Mid-Autumn festival to avoid any family feuds! We’ve been getting our fix with NICE POPS’ slightly boozy watermelon ice lollies – we could resist them at our recent blogger meet-up here. Whilst they don’t promise to reunite long-lost family members, they certainly help beat the summer heat!
If you want to try more traditional food, head down to Victoria Park’s Mid Autumn market, held on the 7-9 September, where there will be about 20 booths selling festive nibbles and treats.
WHAT TO DO
So once you’ve got your moon cakes and your lantern, how should you actually celebrate Mid Autumn festival?
It’s been said that the villagers of Tai Hang staved off a plague with a Fire Dragon dance in the 1880s and this must-see Mid-Autumn tradition continues to this day. These days, the Tai Hang Fire Dragon is bigger and better than ever- the 67 metre-long behemoth not only breathes fire but is made of it too! Don’t worry if you can’t find your way there, just follow the smoke, music, and riot of drums. Not far from Tai Hang lies Victoria Park, which becomes home to Hong Kong’s grandest lantern displays and carnivals every September. Expect Kung Fu demonstrations, lots of folk songs and some very impressive lanterns.
Not an Islander? There are loads of lantern festivals complete with traditional performances, puppet shows and more taking place all round the 852, including Sha Tin Park, Tuen Mun Park and the Hong Kong Cultural Centre Piazza at Tsim Sha Tsui.
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Mid-Autumn Festival is all about appreciating the full moon, so no festival’s complete without a bit of moon-gazing. And where’s the ideal spot you ask? How about onboard the Shining Star Ferry slap bang in the middle of Victoria Harbour? We’ve all seen the Symphony of Lights before but never from this angle, and this hour-long cruise offers a whole new perspective on the city beneath a beautiful harvest moon (clouds permitting!). For something simpler, a picnic in any of Hong Kong’s parks under the moonlight with some snacks, drinks and of course mooncakes sounds good to us!
Want more? There’ll be loads of FREE entertainment going on around town – puppet shows, Chinese Opera, Chinese folks songs and dance…the list goes on! For a quick and easy look, hop over to the Leisure and Culture Department’s website to see what’s on. Happy Mid-Autumn Festival!