The Mid-Autumn Festival, also known as Moon Festival or Mooncake Festival, is a traditional festival celebrated in East and Southeast Asia. It is one of the most important holidays in Hong Kong, after the Lunar New Year (Chinese New Year).
Origins and Legends
Called jong chau jit (中秋節) in Cantonese, it is celebrated on the fifteenth day of the eighth lunar month around the autumn equinox – hence its name – and it coincides with the appearance of the largest and brightest full moon of the year. The origin of the festival goes back to 3,000 years ago when Chinese would pray the moon for abundant harvests and blessings.
The Chinese started to celebrate the harvest during the Autumn full moon during the Shang dynasty (c. 1600-1046 BCE) but it gained popularity during the early years of theTang Dynasty (c. 618-907 AD).
Since the Ming Dynasty (1368 to 1644), the Mid-Autumn Festival became one of the main folk festivals in China with traditions and rituals being passed from generation to generation until our modern times and revolving around the fundamental concepts of gathering, thanksgiving and praying.
Chang’e flying to the moon
There are many legends associated with the Mid-Autumn Festival, but the most popular one is the story of the archer Hou Yi and his wife Chang’e, who drank an eternal-life elixir, became immortal and flew to the moon. It is said that, on this day every year, when the moon is believed to be the fullest, Hou Yi would prepare a feast, hoping to catch a glimpse of his wife’s shadow.
Another legend says that Tang Emperor Li Longji flew to the moon, where he was captivated by a song played by the fairies. Back on earth, he wrote a song to commemorate it, the famous Tang song titled Melody of White Feathers Garment.
Hong Kong Full moon
The full moon is a symbol of wholeness, nostalgia and family gathering. Family members, even separated, can share a special bond and connection by gazing at the moon, and they can pray for good fortune, longevity, conception or material satisfaction.
Moon gazing spans during three days: the eve of the Mid-Autumn Festival, to welcome the moon; the day of the festival, to admire the moon; and finally the day after, to send off the moon.
This annual ritual remains a popular tradition every year for families, friends, and couples, with the challenge to find the best spot to watch the moon.
The roundness of the moon has obviously been an inspiration for mooncakes to represent togetherness and harmony. Mooncakes represent a hallmark of the festival and are shared by family members or offered to friends. It seems that they appeared at the end of the Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368 AD) as a means to pass messages among the Han Chinese community hidden from the Mongols. The most traditional ones are made with a lotus seed paste and a salted egg yolk centre.
Mid-Autumn Festival lanterns
The Chinese lanterns are a symbol of fertility and good fortune and they are one of the oldest traditions of the Mid-Autumn Festival. People would write wishes on sky lanterns and light them in honour of the legendary goddess of the moon, Chang’e, hoping that she would bless them with luck. This traditional social ritual was also a way for single women and men to meet and to organise marriages.
For safety reasons, lighting sky lanterns is now prohibited in Hong Kong. But lanterns are still displayed in all shapes and forms everywhere in the city.
Tai Hang Fire Dragon Dance
Tai Hang Fire Dragon Dance
In Hong Kong, the Tai Hang Fire Dragon Dance is certainly one of the most spectacular and famous rituals of the festival. The legend says that in the 1880s, the villagers in Tai Hang eradicated the plague and evil spirits thanks to a straw dragon covered with incense. Since then, the villagers are performing a fire dragon dance in the streets of Tai Hang every year.
The highlight of the performance is the enormous 67-meter-long dragon covered with 72,000 incense burning sticks and requiring about three hundred performers to prop it up.
Unfortunately, for the second year consecutive, due to Covid-19, there won’t be any Fire Dragon Dance this year.
Lanterns exhibition at Victoria Park
There are also other traditions related to the Mid-Autumn Festival in Hong Kong such as stage shows, game stalls, palm readings, and many other festive activities. The main celebrations have been taking place in Victoria Park and can still be enjoyed this year.