Gather the family to celebrate the Mid-Autumn Festival!
Whether you’re a born-and-raised Hong Kong kid or a newbie to this bustling city, the Mid-Autumn Festival is a great holiday to celebrate with the family! There’s no doubt the 2020 Mid-Autumn festivities will look a bit different this time around as the famous Tai Hang Fire Dragon Dance and the public Lantern Festivals have sadly been cancelled. But, this traditional festival is all about bringing the family together, so you can still celebrate the long weekend and encourage your kids to get involved with at-home activities. We’ve got the lowdown on the history and the food you can enjoy with the whole gang. Here’s our 2020 Mid-Autumn Festival Guide for families in Hong Kong.
Editor’s Note: The situation in Hong Kong regarding closures and restrictions on opening hours due to the coronavirus is constantly evolving. Many businesses are taking extra precautions, but please make sure you follow the latest government advice and stay home if you have recently travelled overseas, have interacted with anyone who has been away, or display any symptoms.
The History of the Mid-Autumn Festival
Mid-Autumn Festival is one of the most colourful and quaint events in Hong Kong. It lights up the city with bright lanterns, light shows and fiery dragon dances.
Usually celebrated as a harvest festival, this long-held tradition dates back to the Tang dynasty (from around 600AD). The occasion had a dual function, as it also meant that many family members working away from home had a chance to return to their extended family for the holiday. At the time, people would gather to make offerings of food and drink to the moon goddess, Chang’e, paying their respects and giving thanks for the crops harvested during the year. Legend has it that Chang’e blesses her worshippers with beauty, so people lit lanterns in her honour (and to make sure that she can see them clearly from the sky).
The Mid-Autumn Festival is all about light, so a household really wouldn’t be complete without a fabulous lantern to guide the way. Historically, the lanterns were made from paper and lit with candles but nowadays they tend to be plastic, battery operated (safe and reusable is always a win, right, mamas?) and come in every shape and cartoon character you can think of. Be warned – some come with electronic tunes that play non-stop!
This holiday is a time to be grateful for what you have, your relationships and your fortunes. It’s a refreshing, feel-good holiday, our favourite type.
Family-Friendly Mid-Autumn Activities
Throughout Hong Kong, you’ll find lanterns strung about ready to celebrate Mid-Autumn Festival. Typically, Hong Kong is never one to shy away from celebrating local customs on a grand scale.
Fire Dragon Dance
The Fire Dragon Dance is cancelled this year, but make note to bring the family along in the future as it’s touted as one of the most important events to experience over the holiday. Definitely one to cross off your Hong Kong bucket list! The Fire Dragon Dance that draws the large crowds for its liveliness, origin and reputation is found in the heart of Tai Hang village. In the meantime, show your kids this YouTube clip to get them in the spirit and show them what it is all about.
This traditional dance dates back to the 19th century when the Tai Hang villagers were dealing with catastrophe after catastrophe. From a raging typhoon to an awful plague, followed by an alleged python eating their livestock, the Tai Hang villagers simply couldn’t get a break. To get out of this bout of bad luck, a soothsayer said they needed to perform a fire dance for three days and three nights during the Mid-Autumn Festival. So the villagers created a large dragon made out of straw and then covered it with incense to ward off evil spirits. Along with loud firecrackers and drummers, the villagers danced for three days and, truth be told, the plague ceased.
In normal times, you can catch this fiery and smoky performance every year in the back streets of Tai Hang village. We’re talking about 300 performers, 7,000 incense sticks and a 67 metre-long dragon that will leave you in a wide-eyed trance!
Mid-Autumn Lantern Carnival
As with the Fire Dragon Dance, sadly this year’s carnivals have been cancelled so you might have to get creative at home. We’ve put together some easy crafts so you can celebrate by making your own lanterns, drums, dragons and even mooncakes while you wait for bigger and better festivities to come in 2021.
Hong Kong pulls out all the stops when it comes to the intricately-decorated and beautifully-designed lanterns that are on display across various neighbourhoods all over the city. Besides the brightly lit lanterns, there are usually game stalls, palm reading and even traditional stage shows. This is truly the quintessential family activity to do over the holiday so mark your diaries for next year. Don’t forget your cameras and better yet, buy your kids their own lanterns at the stalls (which come in all shapes and sizes including their favourite Disney character!) to add to the fun.
The largest and most popular carnival is found in Victoria Park in Causeway Bay but there are usually lantern carnivals spread throughout Hong Kong.
Mid-Autumn Lantern Displays
Be prepared for a thematic display of lanterns that will make your September a magical one with the littlest members of your family. Trust us, your kids won’t be the only ones ooh-ing and ahh-ing! Keep your eye out as you pass through the city’s shopping malls (our pick is Lee Tung Avenue in Wan Chai) for traditional and colourful Chinese lanterns.
The Lowdown on the Mooncake
You either love ’em or could do without ’em, but the entire Mid-Autumn Festival revolves around having a sliver (or a quarter!) of this seasonal treat. Celebrated as a thanksgiving for the harvest, the main symbol of this season is the full moon represented in a mooncake.
It is said that in the Yuan dynasty, mooncakes were used as a means to pass secret messages between revolutionaries. Well, many centuries later, the mooncake has evolved into an assortment of different tastes. Typically shared between the entire family after a special dinner gathering, the cakes are traditionally filled with a smooth but dense lotus seed paste encasing an entire egg yolk at the centre.
An acquired taste for some, but once appreciated, you’ll be wondering what you ever did without one! Not to fret, if you’re not a fan of the traditional mooncake as there are many different variations to suit the changing palates of Hong Kongers.
Editor’s Note: This post was originally published by Danielle Roberts on 11, September 2018 and most recently updated by Jess Mizzi on 22, September 2020.