Mid-Autumn Festival is knocking at our door, and it’s the perfect time to spend a night indulging in mooncakes and stargazing with friends and family! We’ve got the lowdown on the holiday, its history and what’s on around Hong Kong for all the family to enjoy. Get the scoop on everything you need for an unforgettable holiday right here!
History of the Mid-Autumn Festival
Mid-Autumn Festival is one of the most charming and colourful events celebrated in Hong Kong, lighting up our city with lanterns, light shows and fiery dragon dances. 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. The festival’s roots trace back as far as the Tang Dynasty (from around 600AD), so it’s pretty well-established in Chinese culture.
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. Mid-Autumn Festival is all about light and wouldn’t be complete without a fabulous lantern to guide your way. Historically they were made from paper, lit with candles and were cylindrical in shape, but nowadays they tend to be plastic, battery operated (probably due to safety concerns for the kiddies) and come in every shape and cartoon character you can think of. Beware of the ones that play annoying electronic tunes non-stop!
Markets and shops all over Hong Kong put out the lanterns this time of year. Sheung Wan in particular has a cluster of traditional lantern shops along Queen’s Road West that are not only reasonably priced, but also delicately made. Picking one can be a difficult decision with such a huge range of styles to choose from! From traditional to floral to even Hello Kitty-themed, there are lanterns for every taste and age.
For a fun family activity, why not whip out the scissors and glue and have a go at making your own lanterns? You only have to search ‘lantern’ on Pinterest to get an array of pictures and DIY tutorials sure to inspire you to get crafty this Mid-Autumn Festival! Try out our simple paper lantern tutorial here!
What to Eat
When one thinks of Mid-Autumn Festival, generally mooncakes come to mind (and not just because the MTR is plastered in adverts for them!). Made from densely packed lotus seed paste and salted duck egg yolk, these stuffed pastry babies pack a high-calorie punch and are best served in small slices with hot tea. They are traditionally given as gifts between family and friends, and are a must if you want to celebrate Mid-Autumn Festival like a true Hong Konger. Need a hamper to send to colleagues or friends? Gifthampers’ range of Mid Autumn themed hampers come with wine, fruit and (of course) moon cakes! A great gift idea, and with free delivery they can be sent straight to your loved one’s front door!
You’ll have no problem finding mooncakes to buy as they are served in every store, restaurant and bakery around – if anything, you won’t be able to avoid them! For gourmet limited editions of the well loved dessert, The Langham Hotels are offering a range of traditional mooncakes, and Duddell’s cream custard mooncakes are ready-made for gifting (or for your own sweet tooth!). The JW Marriott has variations such as mini blueberry and white lotus seed paste with egg yolk, while the Grand Hyatt Hong Kong is presenting a premium box of eight mini cakes in two different flavours ($488).
For a mooncake that makes a difference, Island Shangri-La Hong Kong has paired with the Heep Hong society to produce four traditional moon cakes. Proceeds from the sale go toward helping handicapped children reach their full potential. Now there’s a good reason to get munching!
Mooncakes are like marmite, you either love them or hate them. Not to worry if you’re one of the latter, as there are some great moon cake variations and alternatives out there for you. A more kid-friendly version is available from Haagen-Dazs, whose annual ice cream mooncakes are a huge success in Hong Kong. Their release has become an annual event that many people look forward to (much like the first Starbucks gingerbread latte at Christmas!), and they come in all your favourite ice cream flavours, like Belgium Chocolate and Cookies ‘n’ Cream. For chocaholics out there, Godiva, 126 Grammes and Gourmet Chocolatier Jean-Paul Hévin have all released variations of mouth-watering chocolate moon cakes – start loosening your belts now!
Alternatively, here’s a simple recipe for some DIY mooncake-making with the wee ones. Head to Shanghai Street in Yau Ma Tei (also known as Kitchen Street) for some mooncake moulds. If the kids aren’t big mooncake fans, you could always get creative with a simple biscuit recipe and some moon-shaped cookie cutters!
Mooncakes aren’t the only food traditionally eaten at Mid-Autumn Festival – there are a few other nibbles that promise good luck and good fortune. Legend has it that many moons ago, a girl was able to cure her gravely ill parents of their sickness after feeding them a pumpkin. It has since become a tradition to eat pumpkin on Mid-Autumn Festival night to bring people good health.
It is also customary to enjoy osmanthus-flavoured cakes and wine, as it’s during this time of year that the flowers are in full bloom. This is supposed to bring you happiness (but any wine will do if you can’t get your hands on the osmanthus variety!). The round shape of the watermelon is a symbol of family reunions, making it an essential at Mid-Autumn Festival to avoid any family feuds! We’ve been getting our fix with Nice Pops’ boozy watermelon ice lollies, and whilst they don’t promise to reunite long-lost family members, they will certainly help beat the Hong Kong heat. There are a range of delicious non-boozy ice pops for the kiddos too! If you want to try some more traditional foods, head down to Victoria Park’s Mid-Autumn market, held on 7-9 September, where there will be about 20 booths selling festive nibbles and treats!
What to Do
So once you’ve bought your mooncakes and your lantern, how and where should you actually celebrate? It’s been said that the villagers of Tai Hang staved off a plague with a Fire Dragon dance in the 1880s and this must-see Mid-Autumn tradition continues to this day. These days, the Tai Hang Fire Dragon is bigger and better than ever- the 67 metre-long behemoth not only breathes fire but is made of it too! Not far from Tai Hang lies Victoria Park, which becomes home to Hong Kong’s grandest lantern displays and carnivals every September. Expect Kung Fu demonstrations, lots of folk songs (feel free to sing along!) and some very impressive lanterns.
Not an Islander? There are loads of lantern festivals complete with traditional performances, puppet shows and more taking place all round the 852, including Sha Tin Park, Tuen Mun Park and the Hong Kong Cultural Centre Piazza in Tsim Sha Tsui.
Mid-Autumn Festival is all about appreciating the full moon, so no night’s complete without a bit of moon-gazing. 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!). For something simpler, a picnic in any of Hong Kong’s parks under the moonlight with some snacks, drinks (and of course mooncakes) sounds good to us!
We love any reason to take a mini vacation, so why not take advantage of one of Hong Kong’s staycation deals to celebrate this special festival? For a seaside holiday escape, the super family-friendly Auberge resort in Discovery Bay is offering a Mid-Autumn Package from 6-9 September. Turning the hotel into a retro Mid-Autumn fairyland, there will be tons of fun game booths to keep the kids busy (whilst the mums and dads can lay back and relax on the seaside terrace – check out our summer staycation review here!).
Meanwhile, at the Hong Kong Jockey Club, Premiere Performances will be presenting “The Shadow in the Moon”, an original chamber music piece which tells the story of how the Mid-Autumn Festival began. As part of the event, children will be able to partake in lantern making and mooncake munching!
Want more? There’ll be loads of FREE entertainment going on around town – 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 website to see what’s on!
With special thanks to Mojo and Karen!