Mooncakes and lanterns at the ready! Here’s everything you need to know about the history and popular cultural traditions behind the Mid-Autumn Festival.
Second only to Lunar New Year, Mid-Autumn Festival is one of Hong Kong’s most beloved holidays. But what exactly is it all about? What’s the history behind the festivities and what are you supposed to do to celebrate? We unpack everything from Hong Kong traditions to dates for upcoming events.
What Is Mid-Autumn Festival?
Also known as the Moon Festival or Harvest Moon Festival, think of Mid-Autumn as the east asian counterpart to the western Harvest Festival – but bigger. We’re talking late night family feasts (hence the subsequent public holiday), special cakes and even fire dragon dances. Like most Hong Kong holidays, Mid-Autumn has no fixed date. Instead, Mid-Autumn typically falls on the 15th day of the eighth lunar month. Festivities traditionally began as a way to give thanks for the crop harvest. While Hong Kong is now highly urbanised, Mid-Autumn remains one of the city’s favourite festivals.
History Of Mid-Autumn Festival
With roots dating back to the early Tang Dynasty (618 to 907 AD), it’s clear that Mid-Autumn is well engrained in traditional culture. But how did it all begin? Though the exact origins of the holiday has long been debated, it’s generally agreed that Mid-Autumn started as an ode to the moon. In ancient times, it was observed that the moon’s cycle was closely linked to agricultural production. As such, Mid-Autumn became a time of giving thanks to the moon for the past year’s harvest, as well as ensuring good luck for the next year to come.
Of course, as to be expected in Hong Kong, Mid-Autumn also has a familial element to it. Beyond thanksgiving, as the full moon also stands as a cultural symbol for family reunion, the festival has become a time for estranged or far away family members to gather and reunite.
Mid-Autumn Festival Traditions
One of the most popular ways of celebrating Mid-Autumn is by eating mooncakes! For the uninitiated, mooncakes are moreish pastries filled with a rich concoction of egg yolks and lotus seed paste (don’t worry, they taste better than they sound!). They are said to have originated from Yuan dynasty (1271 to 1368AD) revolutionaries who apparently used the pastries to pass along secret messages. Nowadays, they’re typically eaten in small wedges, accompanied by Chinese tea, and come in a range of innovative new flavours that offer interesting twists to tradition.
Pumpkins And Wine
A lesser-known Mid-Autumn foodie custom – pumpkins! A common folkloric tale tells the story of a young girl who 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 the night of the Mid-Autumn Festival in order to bring good health. Osmanthus is another traditional Mid-Autumn food as it’s during this time of year that the flowers are in full bloom. Whether in cake or wine form, osmanthus is believed to bring you happiness (though we’re sure wine of any variety should do the trick here!). Finally, the round shape of the watermelon, like the moon, makes it a symbol of family reunion. It’s therefore essential to eat watermelon during Mid-Autumn if you want to avoid any family feuds.
Another way that communities commemorate Mid-Autumn is by lighting paper lanterns. Folklore dictates that Chang’e, the goddess of the moon, blesses her worshippers with beauty, so people light lanterns in her honour, hoping that she’ll see them clearly from the sky. Expect to see grand paper lantern displays springing up across Hong Kong in the weeks leading up to the festival, the biggest of which is always at Victoria Park in Causeway Bay.
Fire Dragon Dance
Our favourite Mid-Autumn tradition has to be the Tai Hang Fire Dragon Dance. Legend has it that in the 19th century, on the eve of Mid-Autumn, the villagers of Tai Hang miraculously warded off an evil plague by staging a fire dance for three days and three nights. In memory of the occasion, locals have danced a 67-metre fire dragon made with 70,000 incense sticks through the streets of Tai Hang every year since. We recommend heading to Wun Sha Street for the best views!
Key Dates For 2019
This year, Mid-Autumn Festival falls on Friday, 13 September. The following Saturday, 14 September is a public holiday. To help you make the most of the festivities, see below for a list of the key dates for your diary:
- Tai Hang Fire Dragon Dance, Tai Hang, Causeway Bay, Hong Kong, Thursday, 12 September and Friday 13, September, 8:15pm to 10:30pm; Saturday, 14 September, 8:15pm to 10pm.
- The Fire Dragon Of Pok Fu Lam Village, Pok Fu Lam Village and Waterfall Bay, Hong Kong, Friday, 13 September, 6:30pm to 11:45pm.
- The Fire Dragon Of Aberdeen, Tsung Man Street, Aberdeen, Hong Kong, Friday, 13 September, 8:30pm to midnight.
- Moon Night In Tai Kwun, Parade Ground, Tai Kwun, 10 Hollywood Road, Central, Hong Kong, Thursday, 12 September to Sunday, 15 September, until 11pm.
- Magic Behind The Moon Lighting Installation, Hong Kong Cultural Centre Piazza, Tsim Sha Tsui, Kowloon, Hong Kong, Friday, 30 August to Sunday, 22 September, 6:30pm to 11pm.
- Urban Mid-Autumn Lantern Carnival, Victoria Park, Causeway Bay, Hong Kong, Friday, 13 September, 8pm to 11pm (Fire Dragon Dance at 10:45pm).
- New Territories East Mid-Autumn Lantern Carnival, Sha Tin Park, Sha Tin, New Territories, Hong Kong, Saturday, 14 September, 7:30pm to 10pm.
- New Territories West Mid-Autumn Lantern Carnival, Tsuen Wan Park, Tsuen Wan, New Territories, Hong Kong, Sunday, 15 September, 7:30pm to 10pm.
For more information on any of the festivities, head here.
Read more: 5 Mid-Autumn Festival Getaways