Tonight Hong Kong celebrates the Mid-Autumn festival, one of my favourite festivals out here. Mid-Autumn always falls on the 15th day of the 8th lunar month, the night when the moon is at its biggest and brightest in the sky. It’s a festival of colour, lights and moon worship. A festival of romantic lanterns, steeped with myth and legend.
Tomorrow will be a public holiday, so tonight families will head out all night to gaze at the moon, eat and celebrate together. In Causeway Bay, a busy, bustling area of Hong Kong, the park becomes a wonderland, filled with giant lanterns. Each year they are different, and each year they are spectacular. Sometimes they are shaped like pandas, people and peacocks. Most years there will be an array of fish, rabbits and lotus flowers. Incredible shapes and bright colours, glowing in the darkness.
The beach outside our house will fill with people. Candles litter the sand, casting their flickering light into the water. Children cover themselves in glow sticks, wearing them as bracelets, necklaces and belts. They run and flit around the beach, glowing like fireflies. Shops and public spaces hang lanterns from ceilings and doorways. The most beautiful are the traditional paper lanterns, their translucent paper delicately painted with intricate flower designs. Now, however, most children carry battery powered versions to comply with strict Hong Kong fire regulations. Some are still shaped into traditional fish and rabbit motifs, but modern versions are more commonly shaped like cartoon characters: Thomas the Tank Engine, Hello Kitty, Angry Birds. One year we crossed the border into China, and sat in Shenzhen, watching the white glow of hundreds of sky lanterns gently drifting upwards into the sky.
Several communities across Hong Kong celebrate with the festival with Fire Dragons. An enormous dragon, over 60 metres long, constructed from straw and incense sticks. All 72,000 fragrant sticks are set alight and burn with a white hot smolder as the dragon is raised high by 300 people and danced through the city to the sound of drums. The crowd packed streets grow hazy and heavy with incense smoke as the glowing dragon weaves its way through.
On the pathways outside our homes, our neighbours will set up long tables. Each one heavily laden with the traditional fruits of mid-autumn; Star fruit, pomelo, apple pears and grapes. Their shapes representing the full-bodied roundness of the moon and the night sky. Families will sit out all night, talking, laughing and gazing at the moon, bright above them. The town buzzes with the sound of people taking their celebrations outdoors.
Moon cakes are cut and shared around. These little pastries are a real delicacy across China. Traditional Cantonese moon cakes are small square or round pastry cases, packed with dense red bean or lotus paste. The rich paste conceals a centre of salted duck egg yolk, a symbol of the full moon. These little treats pack in an incredible 1000 calories for something only 10cm in size.
To the western palette, the taste of moon cake is strange, perhaps even a little unpleasant. It’s greasy, rich and neither as sweet, nor as savory as you’d expect. Easier to eat are snowy moon cakes. Chilled and sweet, these versions have a glutinous rice outer coating, and are filled with fruit fillings, cream cheese or chocolate.
I’m going to spend the long weekend in Sanya, China, having a long awaited girls weekend away. We’re crossing our fingers for sunshine and cocktails.
I wish you all a very happy Mid-Autumn festival.