Mystical, evocative and joyous, the Mid-Autumn or Moon Festival comes just as Hongkongers start to enjoy cooler weather.
The holiday is an important time for families and friends to gather, eating spherical fruits such as pomegranates and grapefruit which represent unity.
Dating back more than 3,000 years, the festival originated from the celebration of harvest and full moon in the Shang dynasty (1600–1046 BC).
It’s celebrated across many parts of Asia.
Folklore is at the center of the festival and “Chang’e ben yue” is a story you cannot miss.
Chang’e’s husband, Hou Yi, a hero who shot down nine suns out of 10 saved mankind by just leaving one sun on earth.
There was a time when Hou Yi and Chang’e decided to share the long-life drink in mid-autumn, when the light of the full moon shone on earth.
On that day, though, an envious man who wanted the elixir for himself decided to interfere with their plans, killing Hou Yi and threatening Chang’e.
With no hesitation, Chang’e drank the liquid and began her ascent to the world of the immortals.
Since then, Chang’e has lived on the moon with a rabbit called Jade.
According to Chinese beliefs, she lives there still, and if you look really hard, in the light of mid-autumn’s full moon, you might just see her.
The festival features spectacular fire dragon dances, most notably in Pok Fu Lam and Tai Hang.
The latter, a hip neighborhood of cafes and restaurants, is flooded with visitors as it hosts Hong Kong’s most famous dragon dance in the middle of the street.
Legend has it that it started in the 19th century when villagers halted a series of unfortunate events such as pestilence and a typhoons with the dance.
A traditional symbol of fertility, lanterns are a central element of the festival’s visual representation. Areas including Victoria Park and the Tsim Sha Tsui waterfront host lantern displays.
Starting from bamboo lanterns and progressing to paper, metal and plastic versions by the 1980s, lanterns nowadays are battery-powered and have all types of motifs from animals to airplanes.
The older generation will have a hint of nostalgia for the days when one had to carefully place a candle in the lantern or risk having it burn down in front of your eyes.
In terms of eating, mooncakes are a must.
Traditionally made from salted duck egg yolk, lotus seed paste and pastry, these calorific delights come in all shapes, sizes and flavors.
Not only are there low-calorie versions (thank God), but so-called “‘snowy mooncakes” made from glutinous rice and filled with flavors from mango, coffee to blueberry cheesecake.
Unorthodox flavors such as durian, rose puree, coconut, yuzu and mandarin peel may also entice your taste buds.
If you are looking to buy popular goodies such as the Peninsula Hotel’s specialties, remember to go early — their selections assume a celebrity-like status among mooncake fans.
The limited-edition mini egg custard mooncakes from Spring Moon in the hotel attract long lines of dedicated fans and unfortunately are already sold out.
The Hong Kong government has encouraged the recycling of the various elements of the treats that include packaging of metal boxes.
Suggestions with what to do with leftover mooncakes include using lotus paste to create sumptuous dessert.
Donating to charities where recipients might not be able to afford them is also one way to make the festival more meaningful.
While most people will have family dinners to attend, you might want to get a glimpse of the full moon at a rooftop bar.
Ideal locations include Red in IFC, Sevva on top of Prince’s Building, Wooloomooloo in Wan Chai and Sugar in at the East Hotel in Taikooshing.
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