Mooncakes, Lanterns and Fire Dragon Dances

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This is a post about the mid-autumn festival and how it is celebrated in Hong Kong. This mid-autumn festival is the second biggest holiday in the Chinese calendar, after Chinese new year. It is a time when families gather to spend quality time together, watch the full moon and eat mooncakes. I am not sure what they do when it is cloudy and there is no moon in sight.

Mooncakes are incredibly unhealthy and certainly interesting. These days they come in all sorts of flavours and luxurious packaging, but they are all round to represent the moon. The traditional ones consist of pastry on the outside, filled with lotus paste and a whole egg yoke. They are very dense and full of fat, basically made of lard. As it is traditional to give them as gifts everyone ends up with a whole tonne of mooncakes, given to them by everyone they know.

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We celebrated the mid-autumn festival by visiting Victoria park which is full of giant lanterns all all sorts of shapes, from animals to ones celebrating Hong Kong cuisine. The park also played host to a large dome, made out of plastic bottles which were lit from within by coloured lights. When you walked inside the dome, there was a hole in its roof which was positioned to give you a view of the full moon. The park had a good buzz to it and we were touched when an old man spotted us and, so keen to share to share his culture with us, excitedly explained the meanings behind some of the lanterns. My friend flatmate, who has family here in Hong Kong, then persuaded me to try some of the local foods that were on sale. Both of us, however, were a little perplexed by the stall with the banner hanging above that said ‘King Chicken Fat Cakes’… hmm.

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To celebrate we also went to Repulse Bay, which is a popular place for families and friends to sit and watch the moon. A bit later, it also attracts another crowd, that consisting of drunken students and – rather annoyingly – drunken school kids. Many groups marked out their spot on the beach with a circle of glow sticks or lanterns stuck in the sand. We bought a load of cheap glow sticks, a couple of drinks and inevitably ended up going for a midnight swim. Here I would like to point out that being decked out in glow sticks is actually a useful in helping you to spot one another and stay safe when swimming at night. A couple of hours later, and after numerous more drinks, we end up hopping on a minibus to the 2am Dim Sum place (known for opening in the early hours of the morning, for those who are peckish at the end of a night out – the equivalent to an English kebab shop) at around 4 o’clock in the morning.

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The mid-autumn festival in Hong Kong also coincides with the fire dragon dance that is held over three nights each year in Hong Kong. There is a big parade and a giant chinese dragon made of straw, with thousands of lit incense sticks stuck in it, is carried through the streets. Basically the practice came about when a hundred or so years ago a village, that is now part of Hong Kong, was plagued by disease and bad weather etc, so they made the fire dragon to ward off the bad luck and it “worked”.

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