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Mid-Autumn Festival 101

Parties & PlayPost Category - Parties & PlayParties & Play

Mid-Autumn Festival starts next week, and us Hong Kongers have plenty of reasons to celebrate (and not just because of that extra day off work!). We’ve got the lowdown on the holiday, its history and what’s on around town for all the family. From mooncakes to moon-gazing, get the scoop here.


Today, Mid-Autumn Festival is one of the most charming and colourful annual events that celebrates, among other things, harvest time with the biggest and brightest moon of the year. But with roots tracing back as far as the Tang Dynasty (from around 600AD), you could say that it’s pretty well established in Chinese culture. 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. Held on the 15th day of the 8th Month of the Chinese lunar calendar (typically in September or October – this year it takes place 27 September – 2 October), the festival coincides with the full moon.

Legend has it that Chang’e blesses her worshippers with beauty, and people light lanterns in her honour so that she can see them clearly from the sky.


Traditionally given as gifts between friends and family during Mid-Autumn Festival, mooncakes are like Marmite; you either love them or hate them! Made from densely packed red bean or lotus seed paste and salted duck egg yolk-stuffed pastry, these babies pack a high-calorie punch and are best served in small slices with hot tea. Alternatively, newer interpretations of the mooncake include fruit-flavoured, mochi, chocolate and even ice-cream.

Regardless of filling, the mooncake is a thing of beauty, and will usually be intricately decorated with flowers, a representation of Chang’e or a rabbit, which is also a sign of the moon. Sold individually or in decorated boxes, this delicacy sells out quick so plan your mooncake buying ahead of time or risk disappointment!

Where to buy

At this time of the year you really can’t avoid mooncake adverts and every store, restaurant and bakery in town have their own versions.

For gourmet, limited edition mooncakes head to any of the top hotels in town. The Peninsula, Four Seasons, Mandarin Oriental and Langham hotels all have luxury variations on the Mid-Autumn snack. For a more interactive twist, The Intercontinental is hosting a mooncake-making class at its Michelin-starred Yan Toh Heen restaurant, along with a dim sum brunch and pu-erh tea tasting.

A more kid-friendly version is available from Haagen-Dazs, whose ice-cream mooncake release are an annual event to look forward to in plenty of Hong Kong households (kind of like the first Starbucks gingerbread latte of the year for Mama!).

Best-selling mooncake stalwarts Maxims have branches all over town and mooncakes stretching from here to…err..the moon! The Angry Birds version is particularly cute.

Kee Wah has collaborated with Ocean Park to create the Panda Mooncake collection. With each box sold donating $5 to the Ocean Park conservation foundation, there’s a good reason to get munching!

Alternatively, here’s a simple recipe for some DIY Mooncake making. Head to Shanghai Street in Yau Ma Tei (also known as Kitchen Street) for the mooncake moulds or improvise with patterned cookie cutters!


Mid-Autumn Festival is all about light and wouldn’t be complete without a fabulous lantern to guide your way. Head along Queen’s Road West in Sheung Wan (towards Sai Ying Pun), and you’ll come across traditional lantern and paper offering shops selling gorgeous and affordable creations. From traditional, via floral to Hello Kitty, there are lanterns for every taste and age!

To see the most spectacular display of festival lanterns in Hong Kong (if not the world!), hot foot it over to Causeway Bay’s Victoria Park for the massive Lee Kum Kee Lantern Wonderland from 27 September to 2 October.  Here you’ll find a carnival of light, with a festive market where you can pick up treats and souvenirs, traditional performances and, of course, lanterns galore! Last year’s centrepiece was the largest structure in the world made of lanterns, and this year promises to be just as spectactular.  Be sure you don’t miss the actual lantern lightings that take place on the soccer pitch in the park from 27-29 September (6:30pm-11pm) and 30 Sept-1 October (6:30pm-midnight).

Can’t make it onto the island or don’t fancy the crowds? Not to worry, there are loads of lantern festivals complete with traditional performances, puppet shows and more taking place all round HK including in Tai Po, at the Waterfront Park and at Man Tung Road Park in Tung Chung.

Fire Dragon

Legend has it that the villagers of Tai Hang staved off a plague with a Fire Dragon dance in the 1880’s, and this must-see Mid-Autumn tradition continues to this day. These days, the Tai Hang Fire Dragon is bigger and better than ever, with the 67 metre-long behemoth not only breathing fire, but actually made of fire! Created from rope, straw and thousands of lit joss sticks, it takes hundreds of Tai Hang-ers to keep this Dragon tamed, and people from all over Hong Kong line the streets to catch sight of the procession. A riot of drums, smoke and music, this amazing sight is quintessential Hong Kong; loud, fascinating and steeped in tradition.

Tip: walking distance from Victoria Park, why not combine your Tai Hang visit with the Lantern Display and make a night of it? Just head up Tung Lo Wan Road and follow the crowds (and the smell of smoke!)

And for a smaller Fire Dragon dance, head to Pok Fu Lam village where you can still experience all the charm and spectacle of this gorgeous ceremony in a smaller throng of people.


A time to appreciate the beauty of the full moon, Mid-Autumn Festival is the perfect opportunity to try moon-gazing with the family. The ideal spot? 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!). Or try one of the Chinese water tours that leave from Pier 9 in Central and run about 1.5 hours in the evening. Both cruises run on the two main festival days (29 & 30 September) and advance tickets are of course required. (Note to self: do that this week!).  Call +852 2118 6201 for more on the Shining Star Ferry or +852 2926 3868 to inquire about the Chinese tour boats.

Want more?

All around town there is a load of FREE entertainment – 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 schedule for September and October.

If you’re feeling more adventurous, pack up the kiddos for the Mini Lantern Parade at the Tai O Heritage Hotel on the westernmost side of Lantau Island.  Enjoy stargazing and moon watching in the this century-old fishing village now through 2 October. Learn more here.

Another must-see with the kids is the (free!) Terracotta Warrior lantern exhibition in TST, taking place on the HK Cultural Centre Piazza from 13 September – 21 October (from 6:30pm – 11pm). The lanterns shaped like the famed Terracotta Warriors are sure to wow the wee ones.

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