Keep your calendar open: From January to December there is always something cooking in Hong Kong, and that’s not just the treats for the Hungry Ghost.
From Hungry Ghost to Chinese New Year and Dragon Boat there is always a reason to celebrate in Hong Kong. Unlike other religious celebrations, the Chinese festivals are described by colour, dance, music and shared excitement, while they diligently preserve the ancient beliefs that gave birth to them. In this part of the world, it is all about fierce dragon parades, romantic lanterns, festive cakes, joyful music and a great vibe, as families and friends get together to honour the remarkable Chinese traditions.
Here are the major Chinese lunar calendar festivals that have crowned Hong Kong empress of Chinese Culture and its fascinating centuries-old customs and beliefs.
The Big Festival: Lunar New Year or Spring Festival is Hong Kong’s biggest, happiest and most glamorous annual extravaganza, which has been rightly described by Forbes as “Thanksgiving, Christmas and Western New Year’s all rolled into one glorious occasion”. It is certainly a lot louder and busier than Christmas, with people celebrating en masse outdoors in the beats of the carnival instead of quietly curled up by the fireplace. It is the time of the year for Chinese people to visit home and reunite with their families, and then take to the streets to enjoy the traditional Chinese performances and the magnificent fireworks. Even though as a tourist you are often advised against travelling in China during this particular period of time, it is a once in a lifetime experience if you are feeling perky enough to join in this absolutely massive celebration. Colorful Dragon dances and carnival processions, exuberant flower markets, festive horse-racing events and the world’s most jaw-dropping fireworks displays over Victoria Harbour’s iconic skyline, are some of the major highlights of this endless party that in total lasts for about 23 days .
The Romantic Festival: From ancient Greece to the Aztec Empire, nearly every culture has practiced lunar worship, acknowledging the powerful impact that the Earth’s only satellite has on every living creature. And thus it is no coincidence that the Chinese Moon Festival takes place during Autumn, when the moon is closer to the Earth creating a “supermoon” phenomenon. Once a harvest festival dating back to the Tang dynasty, it worshipped the powerful harvest moon on the 15th day of the 8th month, which was also considered to be a symbol of female energy personified in the Moon Goddess of Immortality, Chang’e. With all the Moon bathing, the candles and Chinese lantern displays it is definitely the most romantic and quaint event of the year. Other highlights of this beautiful celebration include carnivals, a fire dragon dance and gorging on scrumptious mooncakes.
The Sports Festival: Also known as Tueng Ng Festival, Hong Kong’s Dragon Boat Festival is the Summer’s most anticipated cultural highlight. It takes place near the Summer solstice, on the 5th day of the 5th Lunar Month, and it is scattered around Hong Kong. There are different theories regarding the origins of this centuries-old festival, one of the most interesting being that the festival originated from the ancient Chinese Dragon Worship. The most prevalent theory has however been that the custom was created to honour the prolific ancient Chinese poet Qu Yuan, who drowned himself after being banned from court. The boat paddling, is symbolically performed to distract fish from eating his dead body, and for the same reason, people also throw Zongji-rice dumplings-in the water. (It is perfectly normal, however, if in the spirit of the festivities you enjoy the delicious Zongji yourself.) In Hong Kong the races have gradually become really competitive as the racing tradition has been passed from generation to generation. The festival is rife with traditional Chinese imagery: Colourful boats with dragon heads and tails decorated with flowers paddling in the beat of the drum, the cheering Zongji-appreciating crowds, and a unique carnival vibe, which all make the Dragon Boat Festival one of the most iconic Chinese celebrations of the year. Every year the event attracts thousands of visitors and more than 140 participating teams, while its reputation has spread around the world, with its most famous siblings being the Hong Kong Dragon Boat Festival in New York, and the London Hong Kong Dragon Boat Festival.
And of course the Spooky one: In Hong Kong and in China in general commemorating the dead is an important part of life. Instead of flowers, it is not uncommon to bring fruits, meat, snacks and drinks to the grave of the deceased, as well as to burn incense and paper money or anything else a person can use in the other world. The Hungry Ghost Festival that takes place every September in Hong Kong is meant to appease the spirits of the dead that roam the earth for a whole month, (the entire seventh month of the lunar calendar.) Bearing fascinating similarities with the Mexican Dia de los Muertos, (which is also related to All-Saints and Halloween) the Hungry Ghost Festival has ancient Chinese roots that reflect the worldwide belief that during certain months of the year the spirits can access our world, and so it is important to make sure our ancestors and malignant spirits don’t get hungry or angry. The Festival takes place all over the city with paper money and incense burning on pavements and corners of residential buildings, accompanied with lighted candles and food offerings, that eerily remind us that we might not be able to see them but they are among us. Some of the Chinese superstitions to keep the ghosts away and to avoid attracting malevolent spirits include advising people to not cry, whistle, or hold and open umbrella.