Every time I see mooncake advertisements in Hong Kong, I think it’s way too early… but then it is the same as with Christmas sweets in Germany, they usually go on sale in September, three months before Christmas. So no wonder that mooncakes have been advertised since July all across Hong Kong… and there are now long queues at bakeries to pick them up. It is mooncake season, as the mid-autumn festival will soon be on us.
Traditionally, the festival is a three-day event, with people welcoming the full moon on the 14th day of the eighth moon and bidding farewell to the celestial orb on the 16th day. The 15th day is often marked by a family day at home and in recent years it has become customary to take young children to the nearest park after dinner and settle down on the ground to light small candles and nibble moon cakes.
This year, the 15th day falls on September 27, 2015. Lantern carnivals and exhibitions will run from September 10 to October 18, 2015.
The mid-autumns festival is celebrated since the early Tang dynasty (618 – 907). Families would get together to make offerings to the heavens, to express gratitude for a bumper harvest as well as enjoy a reunion with relatives who live far away. To many, this is still considered to be one of the most important festivals of the year – and it is still celebrated all across Hong Kong.
There are several elements to the festival:
Traditionally, mooncakes are round or rectangular pastries, which are filled with lotus seed paste, around a salted egg yolk, which symbolises the full moon. Of course, there are modern versions now, which include more popular sweet fillings and/or are made out of mochi or ice cream instead of a baked crust. Either way, the mooncake is usually stamped with the Chinese characters for longevity or harmony – and it is a very common gift between friends, family and business people in the run-up to the mid-autumn festival.
Mooncakes are believed to have originated from Yuan dynasty (1271-1368) revolutionaries, who are said to have used the pastries to pass secret messages between each other. The message was printed in the surface of mooncakes as a simple puzzle or mosaic. To read the encrypted message, each of the four mooncakes packaged together must be cut into four parts each. The 16 pieces of mooncake, must then be pieced together in such a fashion that the secret messages can be read – and then the cake needs to be eaten, so that any evidence is destroyed.
One old tradition of the full moon harvest festival is to light and hang lanterns. The grandest of all lantern displays will be held in Victoria Park, but there will also be others in Tsim Sha Tsui, Tai Po Waterfront Park, Sha Tin and Tsing Yi. You can find more details about times and locations here.
Shops all over town sell coloured Chinese paper lanterns and I’ve seen several kids walking home from school with their own designs.
Fire Dragon Dance
This is my personal favourite of the celebrations, and it is such a Hong Kong heritage and tradition.
Fireworks, sparklers and loud noise will keep bad spirits away and the fire dragon will roam around freely. In the evenings of the 26th and 28th, the dragon is content to roam in the old Tai Hang Village area, but on the 27th, it walks from its old grounds to make a spectacular entrance into Victoria Park. It will be loud and packed with people, so get there early to watch the spectacle unfold and see how the men handle this wild beast, that is 70 metres long.
Here is a video of the Fire Dragon Dance back in 2013 – with lots of fire crackers everywhere. Those are in memory of the plague in 1880, which could only be stopped by performing a Fire Dragon Dance.