Celebrating mid-autumn here in Hong Kong really is great – there are lots of beautiful lantern decorations everywhere and the choice of moon cakes is almost mind-blowing. But the most beautiful and amazing part of the celebrations is the Fire Dragon Dance in Tin Hau.
It is only on three nights per year – this time it was on Wednesday Sep 18 (that’s when I went), on Thursday Sep 19 (yesterday) and it is one more time tonight (Friday Sep 20). So if you missed it, you can (and should) go!
This historic dance has taken place since the 1880s – it started when the people of Tai Hang village miraculously stopped a plague with a fire dragon dance. Nowadays, there is no plague anymore, but lots to celebrate.
The dance starts with the dragon getting ready – so if you arrive in Tin Hau at 7.30pm (like I did) you won’t hear any music yet. The streets will be empty of cars and people are gathering in the backstreets – they are preparing the dragon.
Many people have been queuing to get a good spot – some are already standing on ladders, waiting for the dragon to start dancing.
Over 300 performers (all men – women are not allowed) prepare the dragon that is 67 metres long. I’m not entirely sure what it is made out of, it looked like it was made out of straw, but would that not be too dangerous?
The men in the white shirts hold the dragon still, while the men in the blue shirts add large, burning incense sticks to the body of the dragon.
It looks like they are adding burning scales to the dragon. It is a very difficult job, you can see the smoke rising and the ashes falling – several of the men have been jumping away from the dragon to prevent hot ashes burning them.
This is the tail of the dragon on the pictures below – it’s a bushy tail for a big dragon. The head is much taller, but unfortunately there are too many people crowded around the head that I can’t get there.
The whole air is quickly filled with the smell of burning incense sticks – it smells like a big BBQ (without the meat or seafood). It is hot, there is no fresh air moving around the small back street, everyone is coughing and trying to cover their nose and mouth – but everyone is also cheering and clapping, waiting for the dragon to get ready and emerge onto the main street, Wun Sha Street.
Finally, the dragon is ready – the men lift it up on their shoulders and suddenly it is alive. It is dancing and breathing. It is a big beast, hard to control. It moves from the left to the right and luckily the pedestrian walkway is blocked from the street – we’re in a safe distance and let the dangerous animal walk past us.