Countries around the world host a variety of festivals to welcome the cooler climes of the autumn season. In Hong Kong, the festivities take the form of the lively and colorful Mid-Autumn festival.
Scheduled for 8th September in 2014, the Mid-Autumn Festival dates back nearly 3000 years. Historical records estimate that the event originated during the period of the Shang Dynasty in China. The celebration of the festival was initially reserved only for the Chinese Emperors who reveled in the abundance of a good harvest as they gazed and celebrated a glorious full moon. The festival became more established and inclusive under during the Tang and Song dynasties.
The celebration of the Mid-Autumn festival typically occurs around the 15th day of the eighth month of the Chinese Lunar Calendar, a day normally associated with the appearance of a full moon. Not limited to a single day, the festival usually spans three days as revelers welcome the new moon on the 14th day and then bid good-bye to the moon as it begins to wane on the 16th day.The preparations for the many festivities of the event commence way in advance. Restaurants, hotels and bakeries around Hong Kong and much of the Far East begin to accept orders for mooncakes, the traditional pastries associated with this celebration of the full moon. Mooncakes are not only consumed during the festival they are also gifted between friends, family and business associates.
It is believed that the practice of consuming the aptly named mooncakes originated during the rule of the Mongol Yuan (1271-1368) in China. The indigenous Han people resented the rule of the Mongols. The leader of the Han revolutionaries, Chu Yuan-chang along with his trusted advisor Liu Bo-wen then hatched a clever plot to displace the Mongols. The plot involved starting and spreading a rumor that a horrific plague was about to engulf the land, and only the consumption of mooncakes would help to protect the Han people.The revolutionaries then went on to distribute countless mooncakes. Hidden within these mooncakes was message ‘Rise on the fifteenth day of the eighth moon.’ The message united the Han people who proceed then to overthrow the Yuan. Ever since moon cakes have come to be associated with the celebration of the Mid-Autumn Festival as they symbolize unity and good fortune. In fact, mooncakes are today often adorned with Chinese symbols that convey these ideas.
Gifting of mooncakes is thus, integral to the celebration of the festival and many renowned Hong Kong hotels like the Peninsula, the Mira, and the Island Shangri-La are famed for their delicious moon cake treats. Traditional Moon cakes, are small pastries filled a paste made out of lotus seed and salted duck egg yolk for the egg yolk is said to resemble the moon. These establishments are besieged with orders for these tasty (calorie-laden) deserts as soon as they announce their annual offerings.However, nowadays mooncakes are offered with a variety of fillings like egg custard and chocolate as well. While contemporary mooncakes also feature in ice cream and gluten-free forms as they try to cater to current tastes.
In the run up to the celebration of the Mid-Autumn Festival, homes are cleaned and adorned with many colorful lanterns. Elaborate dinners are cooked, and people gather together on the day of the fete with friends and family to celebrate. Mooncakes, usually feature as desert at these gatherings and are consumed with cups of Chinese tea. Folks then head out with lanterns to a park or a chosen setting to gaze and marvel at the beauty of the celestial orb.Folks often bemoan the fact that the skies over Hong Kong are always overcast so that spotting stars, or even the moon is difficult. That maybe the case occasionally but during the Mid-Autumn Festival, a glorious moon usually illuminates Hong Kong with its heavenly glow. The moon is usually clearly visible all over the SAR, especially at favored moon gazing spots on the Peak, Repulse Bay, TsimShaTsui waterfront and Victoria Park in Causeway Bay(usually the designated site of the Lantern festival for this event).
All of Hong Kong sports a festive air during the celebration of the Mid-Autumn Festival, as most apartment complexes and hotels, are dressed up for the celebrations. Holiday bazaars (along Lantern and Queen Streets in SheungWan and various other spots), mooncake making workshops and lantern making and painting events also feature prominently during the festival as does another traditional celebratory event, the Tai Hang Fire Dragon Dance.