Hello all, I am going to introduce you to 10 traditional Chinese festivals celebrated in Hong Kong. I am sure you have heard about some of them such as Chinese New Year and Dragon Boat Festival.
Each Hong Kong Festival has its own story, and all of the celebrations are exciting and vibrant. Many people know that Western festivals like Christmas and Easter are statutory holidays in Hong Kong. In this post, other than famous festivals of Hong Kong, some of the festivals little known to foreigners will also be presented.
Do not be surprised that Chinese people also like to make the birthday of some prominent figures a festival. It is similar to commemorating the birth of Jesus Christ at Christmas.
Hong Kong Festival Guide
Want to learn more about traditional festivals celebrated in Hong Kong by month? Let’s have a look below:
1. Chinese New Year (CNY)
Date: First Moon, Day 1; usually in February, sometimes in January
Lunar New Year is the most important Hong Kong Festival. Many tourists prefer to visit the city during the Chinese New year festival as there are lots of celebrations. The series of annual events start with the International Chinese New Year Night Parade, which usually takes place in Tsim Sha Tsui. On the second night of CNY, the signature fireworks display is held over the iconic Victoria Harbour.
Lantern Festival falls on the fifteenth day of the CNY, which also marks the end of CNY celebrations of a year. Lantern Carnivals are organized in different regions of Hong Kong. You can enjoy some large-scale lantern exhibitions and live performances. If you want to visit CNY flower markets, such as the one in Victoria Park, and buy some auspicious flowers, you have to come earlier as they usually open for a week before the first day of the CNY.
All public transport, major attractions, shopping malls, chain stores, and most restaurants operate as usual. Only some smaller shops and markets close on the first two days of CNY or even for a week. It would be better to double check with them before your journey.
2. Hung Shing Festival – Hong Kong
Date: Second Moon, Day 13; usually in March
Hung Shing Festival celebrations can be observed in different places in Hong Kong. It is especially important for fishermen and villagers. Why is it important? And what does Hung Shing mean?
Hung Shing, originally named Hung Hei, was the governor of a county called Punyu in southern China dating back to the Tang Dynasty (CE 618-907). He was an upright civil servant and was knowledgeable about astronomy, geography, and mathematics. He helped people a lot, particularly fishermen and sea merchants because he built an observatory to forecast weather. However, he died early as he worked too hard. The imperial emperor gave him the “Hung Shing” (Saint Hung) title in praise of his contributions to the society. It was believed that he became a patron saint and continued to safeguard people.
Hung Shing Festival is still celebrated in Hong Kong, although the majority of people are no longer fishing for living or living in villages. You can join the celebrations by visiting some places with Hung Shing temples in Hong Kong such as Ap Lei Chau near Aberdeen fishing village.
3. Birthday of Tin Hau – the Queen of Heaven
Date: Third Moon, Day 23; usually in April or May
Most people in Hong Kong have heard about Tin Hau’s birthday and may have been to Tin Hau temples. There are over fifty Tin Hau temples across Hong Kong, especially by the seaside and at the waterfront. You may have walked past one of those temples. Why are there so many Tin Hau temples? Who is Tin Hau? Tin Hau is actually the Queen of Heaven.
Her original name was Lin Mo and she was born in southeastern China in the Song Dynasty period (CE 960-1279). Similar to Hung Shing, the character of the previous festival, Tin Hau was very good at forecasting the weather. She was dedicated to saving fishermen and sea merchants whenever there were disasters. She was deified after her death and temples were built to commemorate her. Today, people still respect and worship her.
Tin Hau’s Birthday is widely celebrated in East and Southeast Asia. In Hong Kong, celebrations include parades, dragon and lion dances as well as Chinese opera performances. For large scale celebrations, you can visit Tin Hau temples in the New Territories. For easy access, why not visit the one near Victoria Park on Hong Kong Island.
4. Buddha’s Birthday
Date: Fourth Moon, Day 8; usually in May, sometimes even in April or June
Buddha’s Birthday is celebrated in many countries in Asia. The birthday of Buddha is also called the Buddha Bathing Festival. Shakyamuni Buddha, or simply the Buddha, is the founder of Buddhism and the sage of the Shakya (clan). His real name is Siddhartha Gautama. He was the prince of a state in Ancient India (today’s southern Nepal).
It is said that nine dragons sprayed water to bathe him when the Buddha was born. That is why people keep the tradition of bathing statues of the Buddha on his birthday. Some people believe that through bathing the Buddha, their souls can be purified as well.
Other than Buddha bathing, there is a range of activities for you can participate in. For instance, Dharma talks, veggie eating, joss sticks lighting, as well as flowers and fruit offering. You may also watch a dragon and lion dance. So, where should I go on Buddha’s birthday? You may visit Po Lin Monastery on Ngong Ping Plateau, Lantau Island. The Big Buddha is located there too.
5. Dragon Boat Festival
Date: Fifth Moon, Day 5; usually in June, sometimes in May
At this traditional Chinese festival, the most exciting activity is participating in dragon boat races. You can either watch the races on-site or live on TV for free. You can also become a member of a boat team. Competitions are held everywhere in Hong Kong, Discovery Bay, Stanley, Repulse Bay, Lamma Island, and Sai Kung, just to name a few.
Have you thought about joining the Hong Kong International Dragon Boat Races? The 3-day racing is usually held on the Victoria Harbour. It is accompanied by the Beerfest with live music and games. Not quite interested in the dragon boat? Not to worry. You may go swimming or have some traditional sticky rice dumplings wrapped in bamboo leaves.
Why do people eat rice dumplings and organize dragon boat races? It is said that Qu Yuan, a patriotic poet, and government official, drowned himself in a river on this festive day in 278 BCE (Warring States Period in ancient China, 475-221 BCE). People rowed boats to find his body and threw rice dumplings into the river so as to avoid it being eaten by fish. Another saying is that when the summer begins, people have to drive out evil spirits and to avoid the plague. No matter what the origin is, the customs are still in practice and hope you all enjoy this Hong Kong festival.
6. Birthday of Kwan Tai – the Martial God
Date: Sixth Moon, Day 24; usually in July
Kwan Tai is worshipped in popular Confucianism, Taoism, and Chinese Buddhism. The Kwan Tai literally means Emperor Kwan. However, he was actually not a king. Instead, he was a renowned general and the sworn brother of Liu Bei, the first ruler of the state of Shu Han in the Three Kingdoms (CE 184/220–280) period of China. He is worshipped by many folks, although he was defeated and killed in the war. Why is he worth respect? Originally named Kwan Yu, he is best known for his loyalty to Liu Bei and his righteousness. After his death, he was deified by Chinese folks as the Martial God or Warrior God.
There are a number of Kwan Tai Temples in Hong Kong including the one in Tai O and Man Mo Temple in Sheung Wan. You can celebrate his birthday by visiting his temples and light some incense sticks.
7. Hungry Ghost Festival
Date: Seventh Moon, Day 14-15; usually in August
There are several names for this Hong Kong festival like Yue Lan Festival, Zhongyuan Festival, and simply the Ghost Festival. While it is officially listed as part of China’s intangible cultural heritage, it is also widely celebrated in many East and Southeast Asian countries. In contrast to the Halloween with kids asking for sweets, people offer sacrifices to ancestors and other unknown ghosts.
At first, Zhongyuan Festival was meant to thank the nature and ancestors for the harvest. It has been celebrated since the Han Dynasty (206 BC–220 CE). Later, legend has it that the gates of Hell are opened in the whole seventh lunar month and ghosts are free to visit the living world. Both Taoists and Buddhists perform ritual sacrifices during the festival.
Many Hong Kong people, especially the older generation and those originating from Chiu Chow, celebrate the Yu Lan Festival for a month every year. They have kept up with the tradition for over 100 years. Food and joss paper are brought to the roadside as offerings for the wandering ghosts. They are absolutely not leftover. Don’t get it wrong. Other major activities include live Chinese opera performances in temporary bamboo theatres for the ghosts and the neighborhood. There is auspicious rice distribution for the needy and the elderly, as well as auspicious objects auction. These activities occupy many parks, piazzas, and pitches across Hong Kong and you can easily find one nearby.
8. Mid-Autumn Festival
Date: Eighth Moon, Day 15; usually in September, sometimes in October
Mid-Autumn Festival is also known as Moon Festival or Mooncake Festival. It is one of the biggest traditional Chinese festivals in Hong Kong and is widely celebrated in East and Southeast Asia. It is time for family reunion and gatherings.
Originated in ancient China, people have the custom of Chinese lantern playing, mooncake eating and moon admiring as the moon is usually the fullest one of a year. Other than mooncakes, people have seasonal fruits like star fruit, grapefruit, taro, pear, and persimmon etc.
There are lantern decorations across Hong Kong, for example in shopping malls and parks. Large-scale lantern displays and carnivals are organized every year in different districts. Like dragon boat races, the admission is free for everyone. The greatest one is held in Victoria Park on Hong Kong Island. You can enjoy traditional art performances, stage shows, and the spectacular Tai Hang Fire Dragon Dance.
There are many stories about the origin of this Hong Kong festival. Some folklore scholars believe that the festival is originated from autumn harvest. Another popular origin is derived from the tale of Chang-o. Chang-o is a beautiful lady and is the subject of ancient folklore in Chinese mythology. Legend has it that Chang-o took the elixir of immortality and then flew to the Moon forever. She had not met her husband, Houyi the archer, since then. Houyi displayed some food and sacrificed them to his wife. Chang-o then became the Chinese Goddess of the Moon.
Double Ninth Festival
Date: Ninth Moon, Day 9; usually in October, sometimes in November
Chung Yeung Festival, also called Double Ninth Festival or “climbing festival”, is the time for people to pay homage to their ancestors and go tomb-sweeping. What else should I do if I am just a visitor to Hong Kong? No worries. You can go mountain climbing in this famous hiking city.
How did the festival get its name? You may have heard about the Chinese philosophy of yin and yang. Yeung actually means yang. It is said that the mountain is yang, and nine is yang as well. That is why people go mountain climbing.
Actually, this custom can be date back to the Han Dynasty (206 BC–220 CE). A fortune teller told a villager to bring all his belongings and his family to a mountain. The villager listened to him. Later, the whole village was hit hard by a disaster. Only the villager and his family survived as they were at the highest point of the village. Mountain climbing has become a traditional custom of Chung Yeung Festival since then.
If you are in Hong Kong during the festival, why not try the famous Dragon’s Back or the Victoria Peak? Please be caution that it is a public holiday in Hong Kong, and areas near the cemeteries, usually in the suburb, are very busy during the festival, even a month before and after the festive day.
Date: Eleventh Moon; always in December
There is an old saying that “the Winter Solstice is greater than the Lunar New Year“. For many Chinese people, the Winter Solstice is the most important traditional festival except for the Lunar New Year. The winter solstice is one of the twenty-four solar terms which has the shortest daytime and the longest nighttime of a year.
Put it into the yin-yang theory, yin is the strongest on this day. However, yang, represented by light and warmth, begins to resume after this day. Therefore, it is time to get together and to enjoy a feast so as to fight against the cold and darkness, and to welcome the new cycle joyfully.
Read our other Hong Kong Stories
This is a guest post by Kate Yam of Hong Kong Travel Guide Fame for IndiTales. Do check out her Blog that is full of information on Hong Kong.